Archaeopteryx Glider Is the Lightest in the World
The next lightest thing? Your wallet, after you buy one.
We may not be birds or superheroes, or fly on broomsticks or magic carpets, but what we mortal humans do have is the Archaeopteryx, the lightest glider in the world. If you’ve got money to burn and an adventurous streak, it could be yours.
Specialists in lightweight engineering since 1976, the Swiss family company Ruppert Composite GmBH first delivered these hand-built flying machines to the public in 2010. Though Ruppert Composite first published the video in 2012, the video blew minds on Twitter when Joe Biggs posted a clip of its launch last week, captioned, “Would you ride one of these?” Since then, the clip grabbed 4.36 million views, 4,700 retweets, and 15,000 likes. As featured in the video, the microlift sailplane allows pilots to take flight with just a running start.
What Is an Archaeopteryx?
The Archaeopteryx takes its name from the ancient dino-birds. Dating back about 150 million years ago, the Archaeopteryx is generally considered the first bird, although some research places it closer to reptiles and suggests its flight looked more like flapping than gliding.
With a wingspan of 44.6 feet, the sailplane is significantly larger than its namesake. The racing model, 18.8 feet in length and 9.6 feet tall, weighs in at 134 pounds and can hits speeds from 19 to 81 miles per hour. For a plane, that’s feather-light.
Manufactured in Europe after Robert Rupert originally designed the craft in 1998 at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, the exquisite body of carbon-aramid fibers, PMI hard foam, aluminum, and stainless steel lifts off in a few ways. Apart from the kid-approved method of running to achieve liftoff, users can bungee launch, install an engine, tow the vehicle with a car, or tow it with — you guessed it — another plane.
Taking to the Skies
Assembly takes an easy 10 minutes. Once you’ve executed your launch method of choice, users use a combination of rudder pedals and levers to navigate. The current record of longest flight is 375 kilometers, or the distance from New York to Ontario.
In the US, you don’t actually need a pilot’s license to use an Archaeopteryx, since it’s classified as a hang glider. But don’t sprint for the nearest cliff quite yet — Ruppert Composite GmBH sets three stages of training: basic training with a flight instructor (which includes 20 to 40 flights), a ground-school course just for Archaeopteryx (Can you stand on one leg and balance while strapped in?), and finally, around 20 supervised flights. The official training schools are all in Switzerland, but the company does have a US branch in North Carolina.
If anything goes wrong mid-flight, a pilot can fire a 68-square-meter parachute to bring you to a safe landing.
These bad boys retail from about $58,500 to $82,000 based on the model, not including storage and transport components. Compared to the more than $100,000 price tag in 2011 (or about $1,000 per pound of plane), these new prices set in September 2018 are an absolute steal.
Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy you the power of flight via Archaeopteryx.