'Black cabs in sky' promise freedom of the city at 350mph

Whether they will venture south of the Thames in London after dark is unclear, but the makers of a British designed "Jetpod" taxi, which they hope to introduce to British cities within five years, insist it will take you to your destination by the shortest route, at 350mph.

Whether they will venture south of the Thames in London after dark is unclear, but the makers of a British designed "Jetpod" taxi, which they hope to introduce to British cities within five years, insist it will take you to your destination by the shortest route, at 350mph.

The developer, Avcen, believes it can offer a flying taxi service which cruises at up to 750ft at little more than the cost of a black cab fare. Due to undergo "proof of concept" test flights in the next 18 months, the £500,000 Jetpod would be able to travel the 24 miles from London to Woking in four minutes.

The new aircraft would travel significantly faster than a helicopter and Avcen believes it could offer a flight from Heathrow to central London for less than £50.

If it all sounds a little too much like Luc Besson's futuristic fantasy The Fifth Element, in which Bruce Willis played a flying cab driver, doubters are being told it will become reality if investors can be found to move it on to the next stage of development.

"We believe once there is an aircraft that can do these things, cities will make space for it," said Avcen's managing director, Mike Dacre.

"We're not talking about travelling to Paris. The whole point about this aircraft is that it will scoot you from the countryside to the centre of London in two or three minutes."

The invention will raise the hackles of anti-noise campaigners already battling against increased air traffic and soaring road use. Avcen believes the airborne taxi's twin turbojets will operate at noise levels 20 decibels less than a conventional jet, but this means it could still register up to 90 decibels, the same as a busy road.

Mr Dacre described the five-seater Jetpod as "a workhorse, a taxi cab in the air, for on- demand free-roaming traffic". He added: We know that cities like Moscow, Tokyo and New York are crying out for something like this, and there's nothing remotely like it around."

The key to success is technology that allows it to land on strips of land about 400ft long, a tenth of the length of conventional runways.

A system of nozzles that direct part of the thrust down through the wings further reduces noise, and provides the aircraft's short take-off and landing capability.

Mr Dacre said the idea was for each aircraft to fly along its own "corridor" in and out of a city from designated pick-up points outside. "We see it as very much as a 'park and fly' concept," he said. "You drive to a pick-up site, get on the aircraft, and off you go. People shouldn't think that these things are going to be whizzing around crashing into each other. They'll be following set routes."

Besides the air taxi, other Jetpod concepts include a personal jet, military and air ambulance versions.

There is also an unmanned robot that Jetpod has designed with the ability to hover. It could be used for rescue missions or repair work while being controlled by operators 300 miles away.

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