THE PARAJET SKYCAR isn't quite George Jetson's bubble-top commuter sedan or Marty McFly's DeLorean, but the combination roadster/paraglider has the distinct advantage of being real. Beginning in January, retired British SAS captain and Everest summiter Neil Laughton plans to pilot the prototype model, a dune buggy powered by an industrial-size fan, from England to Mali, West Africa. The Skycar flies just like a paraglider, dangling below a winglike parachute and propelled by the fan in back. Using roads, fields, or any 600 feet of open takeoff space he can find, Laughton will leapfrog his way south, sailing over the English Channel, toggling between land and air modes, as high as 10,000 feet, through France and Spain, and then flying across the desert to Timbuktu. Barring complications, the journey will take 40 days and cover some 3,700 miles. "Conditions will range from blizzards to Saharan dust storms," says the 45-year-old Laughton. After completing the trip, Laughton and his team will start production on a consumer-model Skycar (pictured, currently in development), which should be available by late 2009 to anyone with a special microlight pilot's license and about $80,000 to spare.
1. In addition to standard automotive instruments, the COCKPIT features an altimeter, a variometer that measures ascent and descent, a GPS, and an LCD map display.
2. The car's 430-square-foot nylon PARAGLIDER WING is stored in the trunk. To fly, the pilot lays out the wing behind the vehicle, which will pull the wing into the air as it accelerates into takeoff.
3. The AIRBORNE-STEERING mechanism uses foot paddles that manipulate the paraglider. The steering wheel controls retractable winglets on the car that adjust the pitch.
4. Should the paraglider fail, the pilot can deploy an emergency ballistic PARACHUTE stashed in the Skycar's roof.
5. The 880-pound Skycar, manufactured from lightweight aluminum, will be equipped with a petrol/ethanol-burning, 140-horsepower Yamaha ENGINE that engages either the rear wheels or the propeller. Top speed on land: 120 mph. In the air: 85 mph. Flight range: 200 miles.