Richard Noble, the man behind the first supersonic land speed record two years ago, is in a race with Nasa to build a state-of-the-art single propeller aeroplane capable of revolutionising business air travel.
The high-profile British entrepreneur, whose Thrust SSC car burst through the sound barrier in October 1997, has set-up a new company, Farnborough-Aircraft. com, to develop a low-noise, high-speed taxi aircraft to operate between underused small airstrips.
With most people living within 20 miles of one of the 7,800 small airfields strung across Europe and North America, Noble believes there is a market for a point-to-point executive air taxi with rapid take off and climb that will allow it to bypass congested airport hubs.
His 12-strong design team have come up with the Farnborough F1, which is driven by a single, almost silent Pratt & Whitney PT6 turboprop engine. It is designed to carry up to five passengers at speeds of up 330 knots (380 mph) and has a range of 1000 miles.
The Farnborough-based company applied state-of-the-art computer design tools to develop single propeller aircraft technology little changed since the end of the Second World War.
The airframe will be made from a composite of carbon fibre in a toughened epoxy matrix moulded into large components that are glued together.
With wind tunnel tests already completed, Noble plans to have two prototype F1s ready for test flights by 2002, for industry certification by 2003 and for production by 2004.
But US heavyweights Nasa and the Federal Aviation Authority, who have also pinpointed the need to free up air space and utilise small airfields, have already started to plan a small aircraft transportation system.
`If we don’t take up the challenge offered by this opportunity, others will,’ Noble said.
Market studies have predicted an initial need for 13,000 F1 aircraft. Noble intends to finance his prototypes from a live build and supporters club based on the internet.