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To Timbuktu by flying car: it sounds the most unlikely journey on earth; a sci-fi voyage from the pages of Jules Verne. But this is no fantasy. The car really flies. And the journey will become reality early in the new year when two explorers set off from London in a propeller-powered dune buggy heading for the Sahara.

The seed of this improbable adventure was sown four years ago when Gilo Cardozo, a paramotor manufacturer, had a eureka moment. For those not familiar with paramotors, picture a parachutist with a giant industrial fan strapped to his back, which provides forward motion and boosts lift for the parachute - or wing - during takeoff. Cardozo’s brainwave was to attach a car to the fan.

“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?’” recalls Cardozo, whose Wiltshire-based company Parajet built the paramotor that the adventurer Bear Grylls used to fly near Everest last year.

A workable flying car has been the inventors’ holy grail for half a century, but the reality has remained elusive. Just ask Paul Moller, the Canadian engineer whose four-seater Skycar is still at the prototype stage after 40 years and more than £100m of development.

Cardozo, a self-taught engineer with a tiny fraction of that budget, thinks he may finally have cracked it. “I’ve been dreaming about making flying cars since I was a boy,” he says, “thinking about all the ways it could be done and seeing how all the other people in the world have done it wrong.

“No one’s ever made one that really does work that you can go out and buy. But here’s the ultimate solution: it’s cheap, it’s safe, it works, all the technology’s already there. So I pushed ahead and thought, ‘We’ve got to do it’.”

Without recent advances in flexible wing technology, the idea would barely have got off the ground. New aerodynamic profiles and materials make it possible to lift a vehicle weighing 1,500lb and passengers without dangerous instability.

“This thing will launch itself without any pilot input,” says Cardozo. “You just open it up and it goes. The more power you put on, the faster you go until you come off the ground [at 35mph]. The wing will basically lock above you [once airborne] and stay there, without weaving, at speeds of up to 80mph.”

Fully road-legal - the car passed the government’s single vehicle approval test last month - and designed to run on bioethanol, Cardozo’s Skycar is powered by a modified 140bhp Yamaha R1 superbike engine with a lightweight automatic CVT (continuously variable transmission) gear-box from a snowmobile. It boasts Ferrari-beating acceleration on land, an air speed of up to 80mph and can swap between road and flight modes in minutes.

“The fan’s static when you’re driving around,” says Cardozo. “The engineering challenge was getting a really reliable system that will switch power between wheels or fan.”

With chief pilot and expedition organiser Neil Laughton, Cardozo will fly and drive the two-seater more than 3,700 miles to Timbuktu. Setting off on January 14, they will take about 40 days to reach the city in Mali, west Africa, whose name is a byword for the back end of beyond (a recent survey found a third of young Britons claimed not to believe that Timbuktu exists).

The team has spent £130,000 developing and attempting to make the Skycar desert-proof. The vehicle is in fact a modified Rage Motorsport off-road racing buggy, and will be followed by a support convoy including an eight-wheel truck, two Toyota Land Cruiser 4x4s and several motorbikes.

If the buggy’s 1000cc engine fails in the air, the machine is designed to glide back to earth for an emergency landing, like any aircraft. But it’s also equipped with an emergency, rocket-launched parachute in case the canopy collapses.

“It’s going to be quite a treacherous trip,” predicts Cardozo. “But that’s all part of a good adventure.”

The Skycar’s first challenge will be the 22-mile flight across the English Channel, before landing in France and continuing by road. Then, after a high-altitude navigation over the Pyrenees, it faces another all-or-nothing crossing over the Strait of Gibraltar.

“If the transmission system or engine go down, we risk losing our car in the water,” says Cardozo. “We’re looking into flotation devices like they use on lifeboats. You attach them to the car and throw them out to stop it sinking.”

How much of the Skycar’s voyage will be airborne and how much earthbound will depend on the prevailing conditions. But the planned route will take the team through Mauritania, Morocco and into Mali and include a crossing of the Sahara’s remote “empty quarter”, where they will need to be self-sufficient for up to two weeks.

The Sahara is a notoriously harsh environment but the heat, dust and unforgiving terrain are not the only dangers. Last year the annual Paris-Dakar desert rally was cancelled because of fears of terrorist attacks.

“There is certainly a little bit of a threat in terms of unsavoury organisations in that part of the world, the southern Sahara,” says Laughton. “It’s a sensitive area and there are reports of Al-Qaeda cells springing up. I’m not taking it lightly but if we were to take the Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice, we wouldn’t be going. We just have to be a little bit savvy and not advertise our exact route, which might put us at risk of an ambush.” Laughton, who has led expeditions to the Amazon, Arctic and Antarctic, hopes the Skycar will one day be more than just an adventurer’s toy. Its versatility and low cost could potentially make it useful for flying doctors and relief workers in remote areas.

“In the 2005 earthquakes in Pakistan there were no helicopters available and this is a really inexpensive and easy method with which to [bring in] a doctor or medic very quickly,” Laughton says.

“When the road ahead is destroyed by avalanche or rockfall and it’s impossible to get in by road you can simply take off and fly around the obstacle. And a pilot could extract somebody very easily in the passenger seat and get them to a hospital.”

Laughton - a pilot - claims the car is easier to fly than planes or helicopters. “It’s so much less complex then either of those two or pretty much anything else I’ve flown,” he says. “It’s just got a throttle and two foot pedals for steering and that’s pretty much it. It doesn’t get much easier. One minute you’re dragging on a sandy beach and the next minute you’re flying over it.”

If the Skycar comes through its maiden voyage, Cardozo’s company plans to put it into limited production with a price of somewhere between £35,000 and £40,000 for a standard model and £60,000 for a high-performance sports version.

Unlike a light aircraft, potential buyers won’t need a private pilot’s licence to fly a Skycar, just one day’s tuition and a powered parachute licence.

“It will be a serious aircraft but also a proper road machine, with acceleration to match your average sports car,” says Cardozo. “I’m not going to sell millions of them but even if we sell 20 we’ll be laughing.”

But first there is the small matter of Timbuktu.


The driver unpacks the parafoil wing from the boot and manually deploys it from the rear of the car. He switches the transmission from road mode, which drives the wheels, to flight mode, which powers the rear fan

The fan’s thrust pushes the car forward, providing lift for the wing as the car reaches 35mph – takeoff speed. Once airborne, pedals in the footwell steer the Skycar by pulling cables that change the wing’s shape

The Skycar has a flying range of about 180 miles. If the wing is damaged or collapses, the pilot can fire a roof-mounted emergency parachute that allows the car to float safely back to earth


ENGINE 1000cc, four cylinders

POWER 140bhp

RANGE 180 miles (flight) / 250 miles (road)



ACCELERATION 0-60mph: 4.5sec (on road)

TOP SPEED 80mph (flight) / 110mph (road)

COST £35,000


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This is going to be one mad trip!!


I am going to be in the truck for the road sections, and on my Paramotor for the air to air filming for the event.

Here is one number for you that will make you think a little about the trip....

Each person, (there are 12) will need 20L of water, per day. we will need to carry 2 weeks worth to cross the empty quater of the sahara.

Then start thinking fuel.

for the Dakar Truck, the 4x4's and the motorbikes and Paramotor, and the skycar....

It's an ace expedition, where again the paramotor wins a place for it's perfect remote location use. I am proud to be a part of the team and intend to head hunt a load of them for the Aus Trip in 2010.

Due to the comments above, no spot trackers will be taken. :-( which is a shame.


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