eVTOLs haven’t “arrived” yet, despite earlier predictions that man will be enjoying personal flight no later than 2020. The latest estimates claim that UAMs (Urban Air Mobility solutions) will go into production within a decade, but it will still be another while before they go mainstream.
By Elena Gorgan
The upside to the extended wait is that it allows for more time to perfect battery technology which, in turn, will offer Phractyl the chance to finalize the design on the most bonkers and idealistic aircraft ever. As the “most genius”artist on the face of the planet would say (*Kanye West): OF ALL TIME.
This is Macrobat, an all-electric PAV (Personal Aerial Vehicle) like no other before. You could call it a flying-car birdoplane, and the people behind it, a team of researchers and designers from Africa, would probably appreciate it. Introduced in mid-November (hat tip to Interesting Engineering), it is now raising funds toward further developing the study and building a first functional prototype.
Phractyl, the name of the startup, stands for the PHRontier for Agile Complex Technology sYstem evoLution. Macrobat was named so because “bats are the only mammals that can fly, and the Macrobat facilitates the flight of another type of mammal (badum-tish),” as the description on the official website reads. As you can see, the people behind the project have a very healthy sense of humor, which probably helps when it comes to selling an idea as bonkers as this.
Starting from the premise that Africa is a region that poses a different set of challenges when it comes to any type of mobility solution, be it on land or in the air, Phractyl came up with a very African solution to an African problem. They looked at birds in the development of an aircraft that would be able to land and take off from any kind of terrain, which would grant it access to remote locations not otherwise reachable.
However, Macrobat would do much more than just fly people out on safaris. The team says it could carry cargo or specialized personnel wherever they were needed, and so function as an emergency vehicle, an infrastructure inspection aircraft, or even as a good ol’-fashioned crop-spraying plane. The video below, narrated in mismatched rhyme, better explains the multiple functionalities of the birdoplane, and how it would eventually make money grow on trees encourage local economy and support small businesses, while also solving several other transportation issues on the continent.
Idealism aside, the design of the NVTOL (Near-Vertical Take Off and Landing aircraft, a new category Phractyl creates specifically for this thing) is absolutely bonkers. It looks just like a bird, a mechanical bird that flew in from a B-list sci-fi movie. It sits on two articulated mechanical bird legs, with tracks at the feet. The legs allow for take off from all kinds of terrain, offering initial push; meanwhile, the tracks should make landing in remote areas easier.
When it comes to taking off, the Macrobat tilts upwards from nose to tail, including the wings. Speaking of, Phractyl says that they will be “able to generate lift at low speeds,” but further details can’t be provided right now because the design is not patented. So, what you see in the renders is not the final wing.
Once it’s up in the air, the landing gear, i.e. the bird legs, retract to reduce drag, and it flies much like an actual, non-bird-shaped plane. Like most eVTOLs currently in development, the Macrobat will either be piloted by a human or operated from the ground, like a drone. The latter should come in handy, considering renders show it’s a one-seater – at least at this stage.
Numbers posted on the official website mention a 330-pound (150-kg) payload, a range of 93 miles (150 km), and a top speed of 111 mph (180 kph). These would apply to the flagship model, which would be a variation of what is shown in the renders. A larger version, ideal for air-taxiing and recreational purposes, would be farther down the (production) line.
As for when this birdoplane could take flight, don’t hold your breath. Noting how battery tech is still “going through puberty,” the team at Phractyl notes, “So we’ll give it a few years to mature, and in the meantime, compensate for it with a highly efficient aerodynamic design.”
To make the wait more bearable, here’s the introductory video for the Macrobat, which is so awesome and unique that you can’t even tell for certain if we’re being pranked or this is in earnest.