A California company says it's building a flying motorcycle powered by jet engines

JetPack Aviation says its aircraft could be used by emergency responders to quickly reach and transport injured people to hospitals, especially in difficult-to-reach areas.

They have been a staple of science fiction films for decades, from the iconic speeder bikes in “Return of the Jedi” to the jet bike from “Looper.”

Now a California company says it’s taking orders for a real-life flying motorcycle powered by five modified jet engines on the base of the aircraft.

Dubbed the “Speeder,” the $380,000 vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft will reach at least 150 miles per hour, have a 45-mile range and be able to travel as high as 15,000 feet when it debuts next year, according to David Mayman, the CEO of JetPack Aviation, a company that creates and sells personal jet packs.

The speeds and heights may sound far-fetched, but company officials say they’re already testing a one-third scale prototype. The plan, they say, is to roll out 20 full-size Speeders for customers next year.

For those bold enough to ride one, the aircraft comes standard with a safety strap.

“This is a compact machine, like a motorcycle, that can take off vertically from your front lawn or driveway and land on the other side of the city in a similar position,” said Mayman, who famously made a jet-pack flight around the Statue of Liberty in 2015. “That kind of convenience and size is what we’ve all dreamed about, but this idea has always been treated like science fiction.”

The Speeder is the latest entry into the race to create autonomous flying vehicles, with companies such as Uber, Airbus and Volocopter already developing them. Eventually, flying car inventors say, commuters will be able to order an air taxi that whisks them across town in minutes, bypassing traffic-clogged streets below.

Unlike with conventional aircraft, the Federal Aviation Administration does not require a pilot’s license to operate a “powered ultralight” craft. The agency’s rules require instead that ultralights operate during daylight hours in open areas and limit their use to sport and recreation.

Like others developing similar crafts, Mayman said the Speeder will be used for recreation and operated on personal property until rules and regulations begin to evolve. The craft can be operated autonomously or semi-autonomously using a throttle and a joystick that will feel familiar to video game enthusiasts, he said.

At some point, the Speeder could be adapted to use electric energy, but for now, Mayman said, no battery cells come close to the speed and potential power created by turbine engines.

Mayman maintains there’s a large role for the Speeder to play in both civilian and military life. He said his company has been working for several years to develop a jet pack that could be used by special forces soldiers. As their payload requirements continued to increase, he said, engineers began designing a personal aircraft that eventually turned into the Speeder.

In military settings, Mayman said, the aircraft could be used to transport heavy loads or move soldiers on and off the battlefield, especially in areas too dangerous for helicopters. In civilian life, he said, those same capabilities would make the aircraft useful for first responders, allowing them to reach locations that might be difficult otherwise.

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