London to Timbuktu by flying dune buggy

A flying car began its maiden voyage last Wednesday when a team of fifteen British adventurers set off from London, heading for Timbuktu in Mali.

The team hopes that the Parajet Skycar, which they describe as “the world’s first road-legal bio-fuelled flying car,” will make the treacherous 6,000-kilometre journey in six weeks.

Although the car is designed to run on pure bioethanol, it will be fuelled on this trip by a mix of petrol and 5 to 10% bioethanol.

Team leader Neil Laughton said: “Obviously in Africa you can’t go to a filling station and get bioethanol.”

The biofuel for the trip was supplied by one of the expedition’s backers, Ethanol Ventures, and is made from UK surplus wheat.

The flying car is effectively a two-seater dune buggy equipped with a paragliding wing and a giant fan-motor.

Describing the car in flight, Mr Laughton said that its weight would be “supported by a silk handkerchief – a large one at that”.

Mr Laughton will be joined in the Skycar for part of the journey by chief engineer Giles Cardozo, Parajet’s managing director and the car’s inventor.

The rest of the team and a Channel 4 television crew are travelling in a convoy of all-terrain vehicles carrying food, water, bioethanol and other supplies.

Mr Laughton acknowledged that the support vehicles were “fairly thirsty and guzzling” but added: “We couldn’t have done it without them.”

The Skycar will complete most of the journey by road, but will fly over the Straits of Gibraltar, as well as the Atlas Mountains, part of the Western Sahara, and the vast, inhospitable sand desert known as the Empty Quarter.

The Parajet Skycar has a fuel efficiency of 35 miles per gallon in road mode, with a range of around 400km; in fly mode, it has a range of 300km.

The fabled city of Timbuktu has been a popular destination for adventurers since the Victorian era.

It is most easily accessed by boat or camel, but a truck powered by chocolate biodiesel journeyed there in 2007.

The city has already suffered the effects of desertification, and was included in a 2007 UNESCO report identifying 26 World Heritage Sites that are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

When the expedition is completed, Parajet hopes to develop the next generation of Skycar, as “an environmentally friendly practical transport”.

Their dream is to produce a vehicle capable of beating congestion for the commuter or, more realistically perhaps, providing a low-cost method of reaching remote regions only accessible by helicopter.

The expedition is supporting charity Alive and Kicking UK, which makes footballs for the poorest communities in Africa. A hundred footballs, printed with health messages about AIDS, malaria and TB, will be distributed during the trip.

Emma Waghorn

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