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Local Engineer Building a Personal Flying Machine: The Fan Flyer 

A half-century ago, engineers came to Northern Arizona to test a personal flying device called a rocket belt for possible use to explore the Moon. Now, Flagstaff engineer/entrepreneur Jim Corning is leading an effort to design and build a modern personal craft that could result in a $1 million prize from a competition sponsored by Boeing. 

Corning is an engineer with many interests, particularly in the aviation arena. Last year, he saw a notice in an aircraft trade journal announcing a two-year international competition called GoFly that was promoting the design and construction of a personal flying device. He had been dabbling with the idea of such aircraft for years and so immediately jumped at the chance to participate in the challenge. His concept: The Fan Flyer. 

“I knew right away this was something I just have to do,” he said. “It felt like it was created for me, because it was so aligned with something I was already trying to do.”  

The GoFly Challenge requires participants to build a craft that fits in an 8½-foot sphere, can take off and land essentially vertically, fly at least 30 knots and stay aloft for 20 minutes. All this has to be achieved while minimizing noise.  

“Airplanes have been around for 100 years. Everyone knows you have wings and a fuselage, tail that might be partly in front but mostly in back. But something like this is just totally different and it’s hard to wrap your mind around it,” said Corning. 

Phase one of the competition saw about 175 teams submit proposals. Phase two involves building the craft, which is going on now. The third and final phase, which involves a final “fly-off,” is scheduled for next year and will decide the overall winner.  

Boeing is the lead sponsor of the event, offering $2 million in prize money. Half of that will go to winners of the early phases and the other half goes to the overall winner. “Years ago, I would have patiently explained to you that you need lots of wing area and stuff to fly, but with a million dollars hanging out there, it was time to put aside these assumptions,” Corning laughed.  

Corning’s engineering background is extensive. After growing up in Oakland, he attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, with an emphasis on aeronautics and astronautics. Since then, he has worked in several capacities in the aviation industry. He has started many companies, beginning with Transport Technologies in Fort Worth in 1995, where he developed high-performance composite aircraft parts. In the winter of 2000/2001, he and his family decided they wanted to live near mountains and moved, company and all, to Flagstaff.  

The company morphed into Novakinetics Aerosystems, Inc., and in 2006, Corning and partner Christina Barker created a spin-off company, Kinetic Defense, for developing high-performance ballistic aircraft armor for clients including the U.S. State Department and Iraqi Air Force. Corning is also a minority owner in in Prometheus Solar. 

Despite this wealth of engineering experience, Corning is looking for additional support for his small team developing Fan Flyer, his entry in the competition. “We need a good electrical engineer, and are also exploring the possibility of taking on investors. $50 or $100 would really help a lot at this stage of the project.” 

While the $1 million prize serves as incentive, Corning has a larger vision for Fan Flyer. He wants to produce and sell the craft to be used for a variety of applications, such as search and rescue efforts. “You could get into places down in canyons and up in ridges that you can’t get to with a helicopter.”  

There is also a recreation angle. The Fan Flyer website says flying FanFlyer will be like “cruising around the countryside like you’re on an airborne motorcycle.” FBN 

 By Kevin Schindler, FBN 

Photo caption: 

Motivated by the Boeing challenge, Engineer Jim Corning is building the machine he has been thinking about for years. 

Photo by Kevin Schindler. 






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