This is a story about a hoverbike.
Known by many contradictory names, like a mountable drone or a jet pack, the hoverbike is a creation of mid-20th century fiction, a fast flying transport for one or two people that combines the relatively low friction of flight with the nerve-wracking experience of riding a motorbike through dense forests. The military utility of a hoverbike, as a fast modern version of the flexible cavalry scouts of old, has driven research for decades, but only recently is technology in a place to actually fulfill those promises.
Meet Zhou Deli and the Jindouyun.
The Jindouyun is an octocopter, built like many multi-rotor drones, with a seat in the middle and a place for the pilot to mount the controller. That the vehicle carries a human pilot makes it more of a fly-by-wire machine than a remote controlled, uncrewed craft, but all the technology that enables this machine is technology built for the modern drone age.
The Jindouyun itself is remarkable, no less for its reported speed of over 40 mph and the over 1,500 tests that went into it. What should concern an interested observer of systems like this is that the parts needed to make such a flying machine are mass produced and available cheaply enough for an individual to assemble on their own.
In fall 2017, the Army tested its own sort of hoverbike, a personal transportation device adapted into a logistics drone called the Joint Tactical Aerial Resupply Vehicle. Logistics is likely the easier application. The drone doesn’t need to worry about the safety of a human occupant, and packaged supplies are a more forgiving payload.
Yet there is something in the potential of the single-person flying machine which exceeds narrow visions of battlefield logistics. Drones already challenge the notion that dominating the sky above 10,000 feet means dominating the sky, and anything that can both move low in the sky and yet transport people effortlessly over ground obstacles has some future applicability in war. Even if the relevant future is grim, dark, and will take a lot of iteration to see success, the low sky no longer decisively belongs to air forces.