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The Maverick Flies

By Steve Saint

I turned the key and the engine started with a throaty explosion of sound that left no doubt. This machine was designed to go places no other single vehicle has ever gone. Almost immediately after the engine burst to life the unmistakable sound of a giant fan joined in to make it a mechanical duet.

This was to be a day of passage for this unique vehicle. It has already proven that it can drive down an interstate along with other cars and trucks. What it can do that they can’t do starts when roads don’t go where you want to go. With its high clearance and long-throw suspension, you can simply cut across country to get where you need to go, with this ‘Maverick’ vehicle. But the off-road capability has also already been proven.

The question we needed to answer now was what happens when roads end in a jungle that even ATV’s can’t penetrate. And, what happens when you are in the Amazon, certain parts of Africa or even Missouri and New Orleans when vast areas through which you need to travel are flooded? What do you do when you need to find a nomadic group of herders in West Africa who are being decimated by an epidemic and you can’t find them without being able to fly? You can carry a small boat on top of a Land Rover but you can’t carry the Land Rover in the small boat. What do you do when you get to dry land on the other side of the flood? And how do you find the Fulani who are dying? You might pull an airplane trailer behind your 4X4 with the boat on top; but that starts getting complicated and expensive.

The Maverick is designed to answer all those questions in one ‘easy to drive’ machine. That’s right, drive highway speeds on highways, transform automatically into an ATV when the roads are primitive and rough, float when the bridge is out or the river has flooded its banks and inundated the roads – and fly when it is impractical to drive or float. Saturday, April 19, 2008 was another ‘Coming Out’ day for the Maverick. This was the day designated for first flight. Visions of Orville and Wilbur fleetingly crossed my mind as we prepared our dynamic machine for its right of passage.

To add ‘plane’ to its growing resume, the Maverick would have to fly. It only takes a few minutes to assemble the twenty two foot mast that supports the Maverick’s cloth wing which stows in a small duffel bag over the passenger compartment. We took plenty of extra time to make sure that everything was in its place, securely fastened and our check-list thoroughly gone over: steering lines attached at precisely the right length, hydraulic lever set “air controls – ON”, drive system transferring power to the five blade composite propeller instead of the trans-axle that drives the knobby, low pressure tires....

Troy gave me last minute reminders as Jesse, Lora and Mark manned cameras to document the first attempt at actual flight. Little Jacob Dyuwi (Little Philip from End of the Spear), my grandson, was standing in the back of the chase pick-up because little arms and propellers don’t mix. I pressed the accelerator down (if that sounds like ‘car talk’, you have the right picture in mind) and the machine began to accelerate, though not nearly as fast as it does when it is not pulling a 550 square foot parachute wing into the increasing relative wind while it accelerates. At about twenty five miles an hour I realized that the front wheels were getting too light to steer with. This, we knew, would be the precarious transition point between ‘car’ and ‘airplane’. At about thirty five miles an hour I felt the tires leave the ground for an instant. Then the Maverick settled to lightly touch the asphalt before taking off for a flight that lasted about as long as Wilbur and Orville’s first flight at Kitty Hawk just over a hundred years ago. After taxiing back to where I had started, I climbed out to give Troy a chance to fly.

It was clear that we were going to need more thrust or some ‘wing’ adjustments before I was going to get very high off the ground. Troy is lighter than I am. We were going to see how much difference that would make in a vehicle that our design and construction crew (Jay, Arlen and Tim) have fought to keep as light as possible. As Troy blasted by me loose bits of asphalt and sand were blown clear of the closed runway we were using for our tests. He lifted off just a little bit short of my takeoff point. Like me, he made a slight steering correction (we have to adjust the steering lines to take out a little bit of left turn in our current rigging) and the Maverick began to settle slightly. But, when Troy straightened back out, the machine climbed to about fifteen feet and stayed airborne for about half a mile before he had to land to avoid crossing an active runway. (Wilbur and Orville did not have to contend with that for sure). We aren’t planning test flights over dense jungles or large bodies of water, but Saturday was a big day in the development of a unique vehicle that can drive, fly and even float. The Federal Aviation Administration gave us an official inspection and approval for Research and Development flying on Monday and on Saturday we flew.

Congratulations, Jay, Arlen, Tim, (and other members of your team), Eric, Jonathan and engineering students of LeTourneau University, Steve B., Troy, Jesse, Mark, Ron, Gene and other members of the I-Tec team and many others who have supported this project with finances, prayer, and encouragement. Thank you Waodani for having the courage to say “If we are going to help our own people, we need to learn the ‘Wood-Bee thing’ (flying)”. Stay tuned. There are mountains to fly over and rivers to cross ahead. But now we can officially call the Maverick a true “Flying Car”. “One small leap for man, a giant step for mankind living beyond roads”.