By GEOFF FOX / The Tampa Tribune
BROOKSVILLE — Imagine someday going into your yard or driveway, hopping into your George Jetson-style flying saucer and lifting off vertically as you head to work.
To some, such a scenario is pure science fiction, but to a consortium of seasoned aviation minds, including those who run Brooksville’s Corporate Jet Solutions, it’s no pie-in-the-sky fantasy.
Located at Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport, Corporate Jet Solutions recently inked a joint-venture agreement with Aerobat Aviation, a California company with plans, someday soon, to launch a manned flying saucer-like aircraft known as Geobat FS-7.
Unmanned prototypes of the aircraft have been made and tested in Brooksville and at Georgia Tech and Auburn University, where wind-tunnel tests were conducted.
“We are building a saucer plane,” said Bradley Dye, vice president of Corporate Jet Solutions and Dyenamic Aviation, which are owned by his son, Tony Dye. “You’ve seen ‘The Jetsons’ (cartoon)? It kind of looks like that.”
Dye said the companies are working to have saucers ready for the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Airventure Oshkosh event held July 28 to Aug. 3 in Oshkosh, Wis. The event draws aviation enthusiasts and companies from around the globe. In Oshkosh, Bradley Dye and Travis Shannon, chief executive officer of Aerobat Aviation, expect the saucer plane to elicit great interest.
“It will be clear on the top, but with a canopy on top for sun reflection,” Shannon said. “It will be almost like (flying in) a helicopter with much better visual of the sky and the ground, and the surroundings. You’ll feel like you’re floating.”
Dye and Shannon say they are prepared to revolutionize aviation and eventually bring high-paying jobs to Brooksville.
Matching their enthusiasm is Dennis Wilfong, who chairs Hernando’s Aviation Authority and is Brooksville’s ambassador of Commerce and Employment,
“What’s good for the airport is good for Brooksville, and what’s good for Brooksville is good for the county,” Wilfong said. “I think it’s a super opportunity. It will bring manufacturing jobs, and we’re looking at high-tech, high-end employment. We’re talking about way above our average median salary for our area. Plus, we’ll have machine shops moving in, all the collateral stuff.”
The California and Brooksville companies were brought together by county commission candidate Jimmy Lodato, a retired entrepreneur.
“Travis Shannon called me and wanted to see if there was local interest here,” Lodato said. “Knowing Tony Dye, he’s so young and energetic, and I thought he might be excited. Tony looked at (the idea) and loved it. We brought Travis down, sat in a conference room and got it all figured out.”
That was about four months ago.
“It’s now gone all over the world since Fox News ran a piece on it,” Lodato said. “Now, there are more (aviation supply) companies calling me and asking to be a part of it, We’ll see how much interest it created when we go up to Oshkosh.”
According to Shannon, the original saucer planes were produced by inventor Jack Jones, who is working on an improved design with Dean Goedde, a flight systems control designer who also designs airframes, autopilots and sensors.
Shannon said future commercial saucer flights are a remote possibility.
“What comes into question are fossil fuels and efficiency,” he said. “We have more inherent drag. It may not make sense for passenger jets, but there are more ideas for the future. That’s not to say that we couldn’t do cargo, because (the Geobat) could probably carry double the weight with similar wingspan.”
The Geobat also could be used for agricultural purposes.
The first scheduled commercial airplane flight happened more than 100 years ago, when Tony Jannus flew then-St. Petersburg Mayor Abraham Pheill across Tampa Bay to Tampa.
Bradley Dye predicted it is only a matter of time before the first manned saucer flight, from Brooksville to Tampa, will occur.
Asked what aviation pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright might think of the saucer-shaped plane, Dye grinned.
“They believed in something that most people would have said couldn’t happen,” he said. “I think they would embrace a new design. Look at that first plane (of theirs). The thing was heavy, made of skids and cloth and wood. And they were the test dummies.”
Bradley Dye and Shannon touted the Geobat’s safety, saying the circular craft is likely to roll like a hubcap in the event of a crash, potentially increasing survivability rates.
The next step, Dye said, is to obtain Federal Aviation Authority certifications and begin production of light-sport aviation aircraft.
“We will have to do some public education,” he said. “This is a new design of aircraft. You don’t want people thinking it’s a UFO.”