Phractyl’s Macrobat nearly-eVTOL: Is it a bird, a plane… or a gag?

hractyl Macrobat eNVTOL

A friendly warning to DroneDJ readers: It isn’t clear whether the proposal by an African startup to build a passenger-transporting aircraft that looks and flies like a bird (it has a passing resemblance to Transformer toys kids love) is stunning in its vision and ambition, or an elaborate gag to see how many people will be fished into believing the mind-blowing venture is actually on the level. Either way, the Phractyl Macrobat electric near vertical takeoff and landing vehicle (eNVTOL – no kidding) is worth checking out.

Phractyl’s Macrobat eNVTOL is unlike anything you’ve seen before, at least this side of a cartoon or experimentation with mind-altering substances. The plane stands on legs with tractor-like feet that allow it to roll at takeoff and landing. That non-optional detail is due to the “nearly” in the craft’s eNVTOL description. During those phases, the body, wing, and tail of the plane shift from their at-rest horizontal position backward toward the sky, allowing the two propellers to lift it off or lower it to the ground. Since the angle of that is limited in order to avoid planting the tail into the runway, the craft “nearly” vertically lifts off by rolling a bit to obtain velocity. 

Still, Phractyl says that trundling action is minimal, due to the Macrobat’s design for enhanced aerodynamics compared to other not-eVTOL vehicles.

“Most aircraft wings are only able to lift after showing some gains in speed,” says the company’s website – whose “About” page is entirely in rhyming verse.

The innovative Macrobat wing is able to generate lift at low speeds, thus ensuring safe, controlled landings, regardless of the state of the propulsion system… As a result of the pivotal (pun intended) wing design, the suitably named Electric Near-Vertical Take-Off and Landing (eNVTOL) delivers envious performance, even from uneven terrain.

Despite the abundance of poetic information on the site, it isn’t entirely clear what the deal is behind Phractyl – which stands for PHRontier for Agile Complex Technology sYstem evolution (a detail that naturally increases the reader’s suspicion the entire project is a gag).

Were one a skeptic, the entire project might appear a farcical prank seeking to suck in drone and urban air mobility enthusiasts with an impossibly futuristic bird-plane that might well blow out its spindly legs when landing, or else topple over under the differing and unpredictable weight distributions of each individual touch down.

Yet were one to take the information the site provides at face value – albeit a face with its tongue tucked tightly in its cheek ­– then it’s fair to describe the startup as an uniquely African undertaking by African engineering wonks seeking to create future aircraft that respond to particularly African opportunities and limitations.

Those involve an abundance of space to fly in, yet a great deal of terrain inhospitable to taking off and landing (hence the perching bird approach). Areas with developed infrastructure tend to have dense ground, rail, and passenger air traffic, so Phractyl’s Macrobat eNVTOL is designed to transport just a single person or cargo, either manually or remotely. It’s described as being capable of flying up to 122 mph over a maximum distance of 93 miles, carrying a top payload of 330 lbs.

Phractyl plans on continuing development of the eNTVOL craft primarily for personal transport, yet will make it adaptable to uses like recreational flight, medical deliveries, first responder service, cargo missions, infrastructure inspections, and possibly spraying crops. It says it could also augment passenger capacity for air taxi operation – or may do, that is, unless the entire thing is a hoax.

To get a feeling of the Phractyl cultural vibe and penchant for acrobatic communications, the video linked below – driven forward by jazz, and animated by Leggo characters into the third minute, when the star Macrobat eNVTOL finally makes an appearance – is quite instructive. So, too, is the excellent article by New Atlas, which manages to take the prospect as seriously as Phractyl permits, but without losing any of the playfulness of the entire thing. 

It’s also worth checking out Phractyl’s site for deadpan product descriptions like, “The Macrobat can operate as an aircraft, or as a drone1,” followed by the yucked-up footnote, “Since this is a family-friendly website, this is the last time that the ‘d’ word will be used. We will henceforth refer to unpersonned aircraft as remotely piloted aircraft.”

Are they serious? It’d be pretty cool if they were. Are. Is.

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