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Parajet Skycar: not your typical fly-drive vacation

February 01, 2009|Gregory Katz | Katz writes for the Associated Press.

LONDON — A group of adventurers set out from London for Timbuktu in early January, traveling by flying car.

The vehicle, which looks like a dune buggy with a huge fan and a paragliding wing attached, is called the Parajet Skycar.

It was designed by self-taught engineer and inventor Giles Cardozo to fly at up to 70 mph and drive about 120 mph.

"You jump into the driver's seat, open up the throttle, the fan spins up, the wind launches, and you just accelerate down the runway and within 50 to 100 yards you're flying, you just take off," he said.

It's billed as the world's first legal biofueled flying car, but its voyage to Timbuktu, in the West African country of Mali, was backed by a large ground support team with a number of traditional cars, trucks and all-terrain vehicles.

The plan is to drive where there are roads but to fly over the Straits of Gibraltar, the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and large, trackless portions of the Sahara desert.

Cardozo said the light craft cannot fly in foul weather.

"It's not an all-weather machine," he said. "You don't want to be flying in the rain, in the wind, too much. It's more of a fun toy than the ultimate means of transport."

The vehicle becomes airborne when the strong fan pushes the car forward at increasing speeds and the wing provides enough lift to get the Skycar off the ground.

Most of the flying is being done by ex-SAS man Neil Laughton, 45.

Before the Jan. 13 departure, Laughton said he looked forward to landing the car in small West African villages.

"I just can't wait to see their faces when we fly in and start playing football with them," he said. "I don't think they will be able to believe somebody in a flying car has just visited them."

The Skycar can be steered with cables to change the wing's shape. It is designed to survive engine failure by using the wing like a parachute.

The planned trip is 3,600 miles. The adventurers hope to arrive in Timbuktu on Feb. 20 after traveling through England, France, Spain, Morocco, the Western Sahara and Mali.

The organizers hope to raise about $100,000 for charity during the journey.

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