It’s not a bird – it’s the ‘Hexa’ personal plane

Robie de Guzman   •   July 16, 2019   •   1620

A Texas company aims to sell short recreational flights later this year in a one-seater electric aircraft it has designed that can be controlled by a joystick without requiring a pilot’s license.

It is one of the startups vying with aerospace giants Boeing Co and Airbus to develop electric “vertical takeoff and landing” aircraft, which typically have multiple spinning rotors to produce lift. Many models resemble unmanned aerial drones, only much larger and with seats for passengers.

LIFT Aircraft may end up being the first to sell pleasure rides in such a vehicle, in part because it says the aircraft is light enough to be considered an “ultralight” vehicle by the Federal Aviation Authority.

It has no relationship to the ride-sharing app, Lyft.

Ultralight vehicles, a category that includes hang gliders, can be flown by someone without a license under FAA rules. LIFT says its 18-rotor Hexa aircraft weighs around 426 pounds (196 kg), including floats to allow it to bob on water and a parachute for emergencies. All told, LIFT says the FAA has validated the company’s interpretation of the ultra-light regulations for the Hexa.

“We really envision a future where anyone can fly,” Matt Chasen, LIFT’s founder, said in an interview. “We truly are on the cusp of a revolution in aviation and it’s being brought about by the electrification of aircraft. Much like electric cars are going to be the future of driving, electric aircraft are going to be the future of flying.”

Chasen is planning to sell rides near cities around the United States later this year.

Customers would first spend time learning the controls in a simulator before climbing into a Hexa to fly for up to 15 minutes, the maximum amount of time that can be safely allowed by the batteries.

The aircraft can fly at speeds of up to 55 knots (63 miles per hour), the maximum allowed for ultralight aircraft under FAA rules.

An onboard computer system, similar to the “geofencing” technology used in aerial drones, will prevent the aircraft from flying outside a proscribed area over open land or water, and will allow for remote control from the ground. And should a need arise, engineers will be able to take over the craft from land. The FAA bans ultralight aircraft from flying over built-up areas and they can only be used for sport or recreation, meaning they are not viable as a form of commuter transit.

“Depending on the time scale that you’re looking at, no, 10 to 20 years, we’ll all be using these things,” Colin Guinn, an expert in drone technology, who’s also an associate of Chasten’s, told Reuters.

(Production by: Dan Fastenberg, Jonathan Allen and Kevin Fogarty)

Three injured in suspected attack near Israeli settlement – military

Robie de Guzman   •   August 23, 2019

Three people were injured in a Palestinian attack near an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank, according to early reports by the Israeli military on Friday (August 23).

A military spokesman said the attack was carried out near Dolev, a settlement northwest of the Palestinian city of Ramallah.

“Three people appear to be injured at the scene,” the spokesman said, adding that troops were searching the area.

Israeli news reports said the wounded were Israelis, and that Palestinians had thrown an explosive charge near a water spring popular with hikers in the hilly central region of the West Bank. The first reports came shortly after 10 a.m. (0700 GMT).

Israel’s Magen David Adom ambulance service said it was treating three people in “serious condition”, including a 46-year-old man, a 21-year-old man and an 18-year-old woman. (Reuters)

(Production: Ismail Khadder, Roleen Tafakji)

Russia’s floating nuclear plant readies for Northern Sea Route

Robie de Guzman   •   August 23, 2019

Russia showcased to the media the world’s first floating nuclear power plant Akademik Lomonosov on Thursday (August 22).

Crew on the Akademik Lomonosov are expected to leave Murmansk for a long journey along the Northern Sea Route to Chukotka in Russia’s far east.

Rosenergoatom deputy director Dmitry Alekseenko said at a news conference that the main advantage of the new type of nuclear plant is its mobility that allows it to reach any point with demand for energy. He also said that it would do no harm to the environment.

Critics, however, warily recall Soviet-era nuclear accidents and Russia’s naval disasters such as the loss of the nuclear-powered submarine Kursk, which sank in the Barents Sea after explosions on board, killing all 118 crew.

In 2018 Greenpeace issued a statement calling Lomonosov a ‘nuclear Titanic’. (Reuters)

(Production: Lev Sergeev, Dmitry Turlyun)

Bolivia ramps up efforts to control wildfires

Robie de Guzman   •   August 23, 2019

Firefighters battle one sector of wildfires at night in Bolivia. (Reuters)

Bolivian firefighters continued battling on Wednesday (August 21) a series of wildfires ravaging swathes of the country from both land and air.

Using a helicopter to dump water on hot spots, firefighters also used dirt and sand to put out smaller flames in Santa Cruz. Television images showed flames dangerously close to the highway that leads to Brazil.

Bolivia’s government has reported that nearly 500,000 hectares of forest have been left charred from wildfires.

This week, authorities warned that 70% of Santa Cruz Department is under “extreme risk” from forest fires.

Environmental organisations have also warned of damage to more than 500 species of fauna, some endemic, after slash-and-burn tactics combined with dry conditions have caused dozens of forest fires in Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

Speaking to the media on Wednesday (August 21), President Evo Morales said measures are being stepped up to battle the fires.

Bolivia’s wildfires come as neighbouring Brazil also battles record-breaking fires in its Amazon. (Reuters)

(Production: Monica Machicao)

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