FlyNano seeks to soar across the skies on the cheap | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 18.04.2011
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FlyNano seeks to soar across the skies on the cheap

It's light, it's eco-friendly, it's (fairly) cheap and it comes in different colors. The unique FlyNano single-person airplane was launched at the Aero 2011 show last week.

FlyNano flies over water

The FlyNano promises new thrills for amateur pilots

Ever dreamt of buzzing around the sky in an aerial hot rod, with nothing but clouds for company?

Just last week, a new vehicle, the FlyNano, was unveiled at the Aero 2011 trade show in Friedrichshafen. The new single-person aircraft was designed by Finnish aeronautical engineer Aki Suokas.

Alexander Schmieden, FlyNano spokesman for Germany, said the FlyNano received a lot of attention at the trade fair.

"We were overwhelmed - we had the world premiere last Wednesday," he told Deutsche Welle. "We didn't do a lot of advertising, but we found that everyone was talking about it at the trade fair. We've especially had a lot of interest from the US."

FlyNano stand at Aero 2011 trade fair

The plane caught many an eye at Aero 2011

Cheap for a plane

One of the FlyNano's clinchers is its price - at least for the rich kid on a budget. It ranges from 25,000 to 27,000 euros ($36,000 - $39,000), making it about half of the price of rival new ultralight aircraft.

"It costs about as much as a Harley, or another luxury motorbike," Schmieden said. "That was one of our main aims. We wanted to make flying as accessible as possible. That's also why we wanted it to land on water, freeing it from airfields. We wanted it to be truly free - like a motorbike for the sky."

It is in truth more of a flying jet-ski than a motorbike, since it can only land on water, but its unique quality is its weight - at just under 70 kilos (154 pounds), it beats certain international regulations for license-only aircraft. This could potentially make it the ideal option for the recreational flyer who lacks the means to get a full pilot's license.

Some German aviators remain skeptical

Jo Konrad, president of Germany's Ultralight airplane association (DULV), saw the FlyNano at Aero 2011, and was immediately fascinated, but was also skeptical of all the marketing promises.

"It gets misunderstood a lot - in Finland, you apparently don't need a license for it, but in Germany you would certainly need a pilot's license," he told Deutsche Welle. "In Germany, like most European countries, any manned aircraft must be flown by a licensed pilot, no matter how heavy it is."

Schmieden clarified this marketing boast.

"There is a European Aviation Safety Association regulation - passed by the European parliament in 2008 - which classifies aircraft," he said. "According to that, the FlyNano is below the necessary weight, which means that national authorities decide on whether a FlyNano pilot needs a license."

But Schmieden said all safety regulations would be adhered to, even in countries where no license was needed.

FlyNanos landing in water

The FlyNanos land in water to allow as much freedom as possible

"Our target customers are not only experienced pilots holding a licence, but also amateur pilots and paragliders," he said. "Of course we will offer them extra training, so no-one ends up falling out of the sky."

Konrad also had misgivings about the price, pointing out that there are a lot extras like safety equipment and sales tax that could push up that 25,000 - 27,000 euros by a few thousand more euros.

New design, new materials

The FlyNano's light weight comes from its advanced carbon fiber composite construction, and its five-meter wingspan can even carry up up 200 kilograms (440 pounds) on take off. Its single propeller also manages to haul it at a respectable speed range of 70-140 kph (44-87 mph), and the souped-up "racer" model is expected to reach a cruising speed of 150 kph.

The plane comes in three formats - two fuel-based versions and one with an eco-friendly 20 kW electric motor. This has a shorter range than the fuel-based versions - 40 kilometers (25 miles) as opposed to 70 kilometers - but it's only slightly slower than the "racer," which runs on a 35 horsepower engine.

"It's great when there are new technologies and new ways of thinking," Konrad said. "But on the other hand, I'm not sure whether it will fly as easily as they, and whether it will really hold its own on the market. A lot of people do prefer the two-seaters, which have proved very popular. Maybe I'm just old-fashioned."

The company is expecting the first FlyNanos to roll off the production line in the summer, and Schmieden says there are already enough pre-orders to fill production capacity.

Author: Ben Knight
Editor: Cyrus Farivar

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