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New Zealand daredevils like flying by wire

'Capsule' suspended from wires reaches 75 mph

August 18, 1997
Web posted at: 11:34 p.m. EDT (0334 GMT)

PAEKAKARIKI, New Zealand (CNN) -- Daredevils in New Zealand are flocking to this small, coastal town north of Wellington to be strapped into a piece of aluminum and hurtle through the air at breakneck speeds.

It is called Fly by Wire, and it is the closest most of them will ever get to flying in a fighter jet.

The concept is rather like dangling a pen from a piece of string and swinging it around a central point. But the "pen," in this case, can control its speed and direction.

The pilot is strapped into a 13-foot (4 meter), rocket- shaped, aluminum capsule that is suspended from a single point among wires strung between tall hills.

The plane is then lifted off the ground and winched backwards up a slope until the pilot's feet are almost directly above his head.

When it has gone as far as it can, he grasps the throttle and the release lever simultaneously, and the ride begins.

The plane, which is powered by a 24-horsepower, rear-mounted engine, flies to a maximum height of 200 feet (65 meters) and within a teeth-gnashing 5 feet (1.5 meters) of the ground in some places.

Top speed: 75 mph

During the six-minute, $82 (U.S.) ride, the plane can reach a top speed of 75 mph (120 kph). It also lets the pilot experience both weightlessness and three times the force of gravity.

It is impossible to hit anything, but the plane does have a kill-switch that enables the pilot to stop the motor in the event of panic. Inventor Neil Harrap says only one person has used it since the operation began in May.

Harrap has only one Fly by Wire in operation, but he is not lacking for suitors. He has been approached by several companies, and by people from Hong Kong, the United States, Indonesia and Australia.

All of them want to buy the system, but Harrap has registered the trademark and patent in 21 countries, and so far he's not selling.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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