British Firm Promotes Latest Twist On Airborne Taxi Concept

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In the immediate aftermath of World War II, many thought there would be an airplane in every garage. When that didn't happen, hybrids capable of using the highways and the airways appeared, then all but disappeared. Many other attempts to come up with the right mix of technology and operational flexibility leading to a sky darkened by airborne vehicles of one type or another have similarly failed. Now comes the British firm Avcen, which has developed the "Jetpod" taxi with the hope it can be used to "offer a flying taxi service at little more than the cost of ... cab fare." One of the keys to the company's hoped-for success is a planned runway requirement of only 400 feet, using a jet engine exhaust design reminiscent of the AV-8 Harrier V/STOL fighter-bomber. According to the company, thrust would be directed down through the wings, both to reduce noise and provide the aircraft's short takeoff and landing capability. Avcen says proof-of-concept test flights are planned for the next 18 months. At this time, the company plans to sell the Jetpod for U.S. $9.3 million, a far cry from the very-light-jet prices being promoted by Cessna, Eclipse, Adam and others. Avcen believes the Jetpod would be able to travel the 24 miles from London to Woking in four minutes and, since it flies "significantly faster than a helicopter," could offer a flight from Heathrow to central London for less than 50 pounds ($100). "We believe once there is an aircraft that can do these things, cities will make space for it," said Avcen's managing director, Mike Dacre. "We're not talking about traveling to Paris. The whole point about this aircraft is that it will scoot you from the countryside to the center of London in two or three minutes." The company has also designed a hoverable unmanned robot that could be used for rescue missions or repair work.