Get ready for the AirScooter

It's not a jet pack. It's a personal helicopter, and it may come to stores next year. Photos: Up, up and away

An inventor mostly known for his work with audio speakers is going to try to popularize the personal flying vehicle.

The AirScooter II, a personal aircraft that can hover or fly at 55 knots, is the latest invention from Elwood "Woody" Norris.

AirScooter

Norris, who has developed high-end stereo speakers and an alarm that signals when a hip replacement might be in trouble, is one of the founders of AirScooter, a Henderson, Nev.-based company specializing in small, light-flying vehicles. Some of its other planned products include an unmanned helicopter-like flying vehicle and a diminutive "ready to fly" model that can be assembled in 15 minutes, the company says.

The AirScooter II, though, is designed for people. It weighs around 300 pounds and doesn't require a pilot's license, according to the company's Web site. The company is seeking regulatory approval but has said it expects to release the product this year.

The AirScooter II has two rotors that function in a similar fashion to helicopter rotors, but the vehicle is easier to fly, advocates say. It sports motorcycle-style handlebars that contain flight controls, but there are no pedals--so people without the use of their legs should be able to operate it, according to the Web site. The company also offers a movie of the device in flight (click here to download the video).

Pricing has not been set, but the company expects it will sell for less than $50,000.

On his Web site, Norris compares the device's design to the first modern helicopter, created by Igor Sikorsky.

"The original Sikorsky rotorcraft helicopter concept was based on a coaxial design much like the AirScooter," Norris wrote on the company's Web site. "What we've done is package the coaxial design in a modern lightweight craft that allows for intuitive control and incredible maneuverability."

Space exploration and aviation have become two of the leading obsessions and status symbols of high-tech billionaires and entrepreneurs. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, for instance, funded both SpaceShipOne and the construction of a new scientific telescope on the California coast.

PayPal founder Elon Musk, meanwhile, founded SpaceX, a private rocketry company.

Ed Iacobucci, an early investor in Citrix Systems, created Jetson Systems, which is meant to help jump-start a market for flying passengers between regional cities in planes that can carry four to six people. Tickets will cost more than seats on a regular airline, but passengers wanting to go from Austin, Texas, to Memphis won't have to route through Chicago.

People Express Founder Donald Burr has put together a similar company called Pogo Jet that aims to start carrying passengers in the relatively near future.

These airlines will rely on new types of aircraft coming from companies like Eclipse, founded by Microsoft alum Vern Raburn. Eclipse counts Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates among its investors.

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