Man has dreamed of flying since he first saw birds. Most ancient gods were able to fly, and everyone knows the Greek myth of Daedalus, who made wings from eagle feathers and took off with his son, Icarus, on a flight across the Aegean. But Icarus became intoxicated with the pleasure of flying, flew too close to the sun, and plunged into the sea.
Today, flying is too easy. You just reserve a flight on the internet, take a taxi to the airport, hop on the plane and minutes later you’re gliding above the earth. Or you can slip into the harness of a paraglider and jump off a mountain.
But what about combining flight with cycling? That would be cool. You cycle to a rudimentary landing strip or airport, turn on the engine, spread your wings and fly. Or you turn your bike into a flying machine to avoid terrain impossible to cross on wheels, as in Stephen Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Maybe it’s a bit silly, but that has never been a barrier to human ingenuity. It’s helpful to remember that the Wright brothers were bicycle mechanics!
In 2013, two different groups of engineers claimed to have built the first functional flying bicycle. One of the groups was Czech. Three Czech companies, Duratec, Technodat and Evektor, with the help of France’s Dassault Systemes, built what they called an “F-Bike.” The requirements of the project were that “the flying bike should have all the features of a common bicycle, i.e. it should be able to get to a place convenient for taking off (due to its higher weight it will be using the drives for the ride as well) (and) having reached a convenient place, the flying bike should take off for approx. 3 to 5 minutes in a coordinated way.”
In June 2013, the inventors held a press conference in Prague to show off their project. The bike weighed 85 kg – not ideal for road racing – which meant that, since take-off weight was 170 kg, it could carry a maximum of only 85 kg. The bike was very noisy, had big, knobby tyres, was equipped with six horizontal rotors that took 47 kW of power from on-board batteries. And, with a dummy in the saddle, it flew in a hangar.
It’s not known if the F-Bike has ever carried a human. In any case, it was never meant to be commercialized. However, the creation of a flying bike by the other group was.
Also in 2013, two British flight enthusiasts, John Foden and Yannick Read, introduced the XPloreAir Paravelo, which they called the world’s first functional flying bicycle. It looks like a conventional bike connected to a trailer. The trailer contains a giant fan, fuel for the engine and a flexible fold-away wing that resembles a paraglider. Both the airframe and bike are made from aircraft-grade aluminium. The Paravelo can travel at up to 24 km/hr on the road and 40 km/hr in the air, and can reach an altitude of 1200 m.
The trailer can be disconnected from the bike for city riding or used to form a ‘trike’ for take-off. The “wing” is then unfurled and an electric starter fires the biofuel-powered 249cc motor. Foden and Read were hoping to sell the Paravelo for £10,000, but their website does not seem to be in a selling mode. Perhaps they have not yet raised enough cash to go commercial.
However, if you are interested in purchasing a flying bicycle, there’s hope. The American retail and catalogue company Hammacher Schlemmer is selling a flying bike that resembles the Paravelo in many respects, has similar speed and altitude parameters and which they also call “the world’s first bicycle that doubles as a flying ultralight para-trike aircraft” . The price? Only $45,000.