Wiltshire inventor to drive world's first flying car to Timbuktu
The flying car is no longer confined to fantasy films such as Back to the Future or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, for Wiltshire inventor and parajet expert Gilo Cardozo has designed and built the world's first road-legal Skycar.
And he is taking it for quite a test drive – he starts a 4,000-mile expedition to Timbuktu tomorrow with adventurer and pilot Neil Laughton.
Mr Cardozo, 29, designed and built the bio-fueled car-plane in his Parajet factory in Mere, Wiltshire.
The Skycar enables its driver to pilot the vehicle at the touch of a button, like a microlight.
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At least, that's the plan for the 42-day expedition through France, Spain and Morocco, and across the Sahara.
The daredevil caper will involve scaling the Pyrenees, gliding across the Strait of Gibraltar, soaring above the Atlas Mountains and breezing over the Sahara Desert.
In London preparing for the adventure, Mr Cardozo, who lives near Salisbury, said he had dreamed of creating a flying car since childhood.
"The inspiration came from realising we can drive and we can fly, so why can't we do both?" he said.
Mr Cardozo, a self-taught aviation engineer, produced long-range fuel tanks for a Japanese aircraft company at the age of 18 before setting-up his own production facility in a converted barn.
In 1999 he founded Parajet, where he successfully set about designing and creating a new aircraft engine.
Expanding rapidly, the Parajet plant swiftly became one of the world's leading and most sophisticated personal aircraft production sites.
The company provided the backpack flying machine TV adventurer Bear Grylls used in 2005 to explore the plateau that inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World in the heart of the Venezuelan jungle.
Parajet also built the powered paraglider which – with Mr Cardozo co-piloting – took Grylls over the summit of Mount Everest in 2007.
Anyone unfamiliar with paramotors should picture a parachutist with a giant industrial fan strapped to his back.
The fan provides forward motion and lifts the wing, so to make the Skycar – which took four years and cost £250,000 – Mr Cardozo just had to attach such a fan to a car.
"I started making a paramotor on wheels that you sit on and take off and it suddenly occurred to me, 'why not just have a car that does everything?'" he said.
But without recent advances in flexible wing technology, the idea would not have got off the ground.
Aerodynamic profiles and materials make it possible to lift a vehicle weighing 1,500lb and passengers without dangerous instability.
Skycar is powered by a modified 140bhp Yamaha R1 superbike engine and can swap between road and flight in minutes. It is also road-legal, having passed the Government's single vehicle approval test.
The expedition – for which West explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes OBE is patron – is aimed at showcasing the Skycar, which the company hopes to sell for £50,000.
Ex-SAS officer Mr Laughton, 42, who has scaled the highest mountains on seven continents and trekked at the North Pole, will be the main pilot.
"I like variety and thought this would be an interesting challenge. Also Timbuktu is an iconic and quirky destination," he said.
"Clearly the reliability of the car is crucial. We're going to have to cope with wind chill temperatures as low as -30C and blistering heat up to 50C.
"But it's been fully tested at a secret location and it 100 per cent works."
The Skycar is due to depart by road from the Sheraton Tower Park Hotel, Knightsbridge in London at 9am tomorrow.
Soon afterwards there will be a test flight at a secret location – to be filmed by BBC's Top Gear – before the team which will accompany the vehicle on the journey takes a ferry to France.
"Unfortunately, the CAA didn't give us permission to fly over the Channel." said expedition spokesman Jim Edmundson.
Its progress through France and Spain will depend on weather conditions.
But it is expected to be up, up and away across the sea to Africa and into "the middle of nowhere" towards Timbuktu.
More information about the expedition is available at www.skycarexpedition.com.