Super-quiet minicab jets could soon be flying commuters to work for little more than the fare for a road-bound taxi.
The British-designed “Jetpod” is due to undergo proof-of-concept flight tests in about 18 months.
It could be whisking passengers in and out of major cities in as little as five years.
London-based developers Avcen envisage the aircraft providing a “park and fly” service for busy commuters.
There would be no question of “flying round the houses.” The Jetpod would be able to travel the 24 miles from Woking, Surrey, to the centre of London in just four minutes.
And because it can make so many trips, fares can be kept low. A journey from Heathrow to central London would cost about £40 or £50 – not much more than a licensed black cab.
The key to success for the jetpod is unique technology that allows it to land on strips of land about 400ft long, a tenth of the length of a conventional runways.
Other aspects of its design will make it the quietest jet ever to take to the air. The Jetpod’s twin turbojets produce up to 20 decibels less noise than the latest engines currently in service.
“We believe once there is an aircraft that can do these things, cities will make space for it,” said Avcen managing director Mike Dacre.
“We’re not talking about travelling to Paris. The whole point about this aircraft is that it will scoot you from the countryside to the centre of London in two or three minutes.
“It’s meant to be a workhorse, a taxi cab in the air, for on-demand free-roaming traffic.
“We know that cities like Moscow, Tokyo and New York are crying out for something like this, and there’s nothing remotely like it around at the moment.”
The Jetpod seats five passengers and has over-wing engines, which help cut down noise.
A system of nozzles that directs part of the thrust down through the wings both further reduces noise, and provides the aircraft’s STOL (short take-off and landing) capability.
Unlike big passenger jets, the Jetpod would fly at no more than 500 – 750ft. It would cruise at 350 mph – slower than an airliner, but considerably faster than a propeller-driven light aircraft or civilian helicopter.
Mr Dacre said the idea was for each aircraft to fly along its own “corridor” in and out of a city from designated pick-up points outside.
“We see it as very much as a ‘park and fly’ concept,” said Mr Dacre. “You drive to a pick-up site, get on the aircraft, and off you go. “But people shouldn’t think that these things are going to be whizzing around crashing into each other. They’ll be following set routes.”
Each Jetpod should cost under one million US dollars (£542,388).
Avcen has funding available to develop and trial the aircraft, but will need further investment to begin production, The Engineer magazine reported. Besides the air taxi, other Jetpod concepts include a personal jet, military and air ambulance versions.
There is also a robot unmanned Jetpod designed with the ability to hover. It could be used to carry out rescues or repairs while being controlled by operators 300 miles away.