Landspeeder Flub


Our boy Bob Cox at the Ft. Worth Star Telegram sent me a hilarious blurb he wrote for his paper on an embarrassing admission by one of Bell's top officials recently.

Bob spotted an interesting little vehicle prototype a few years ago at the international air show in Farnborough and wrote about the thing, which looks a bit like Luke Skywalker's land speeder from Star Wars IV, and it sort of ended there...

Tuesday,July 18, 2006Edition: Tarrant, Section: Business, Page C1

FARNBOROUGH, England George Jetson would have loved this one. If only hed been a space cop, not a sprocket-company employee.

On Monday at the Farnborough International Airshow, Bell Helicopter announced that it will team with an Israeli company to develop a futuristic aircraft that would allow soldiers and police far greater mobility in cities.

The X-Hawk, as envisioned by Bell, could hold a pilot and up to 11 troops. It could navigate congested urban areas by flying above narrow streets and between closely spaced buildings.

Propelled by two jet turbine engines that would drive pusher propellers and downward-thrust lift fans, similar to those on the short-takeoff-vertical-landing version of the F-35 Lightning II, the X-Hawk could operate in spaces far more confined than a helicopter can.

Mark Gibson, Bells vice president of advanced concept development, said the X-Hawk is not something out of a science fiction film.

"People look at this and say Star Wars, but theyve been building these since the 1950s," Gibson said.

That is until a little luncheon last week with the Fort Worth chamber of commerce where a curious attendee asked Bell CEO Richard Millman what that weird thing in the corner of the hanger was...

The prototype, a sort of airborne hovercraft, is still sitting in a hangar at Bells Alliance Airport facility. And CEO Richard Millman apparently has no intention of pursuing the project.

At a Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce luncheon hosted by Bell at the Alliance hangar Thursday, Millman was asked what the odd-looking object in the corner was.

"How embarrassing," Millman said sheepishly, as if asked about a daffy relative wandering loose.

"That was a mistake. Built before I got here. I wish wed never done it."

...writes Cox in his May 17 update.

And Millman is right. Too vulnerable, too slow, too rickety. But kind of a cool idea. I've got to admit, I wouldn't mind giving one a test drive over the crowded commuter routes of the DC area. And hey, the Jetsons know it's inevitable, right?

(Kudos to Bob Cox)

-- Christian

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