GliderCycle: The Flying Motorcycle Retrofit

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It’s got two wheels and flies!

Imagine heading down the road on Tiger Mountain on your motorcycle. Only you continue past the dead end and just keep going. Is this Thelma and Louise? Not quite.

Instead it’s another ex-Boeing employee Cinderella story with a benefit for all two wheel adventurers. And while it sounds like a crazy idea, eventually it was bound to happen. The GliderCycle is the incarnation of former Boeing engineer, Leonard S. Thompson.

Simply put, it’s a kit that can be adapted to any motorcycle, and allow it to take to the air, allowing riders to soar where they never could before using air currents much the way gliders do now.

Thompson took his flight ingenuity and paired up with Jay Geise of Dauntless Motors in Covington who fabricated the necessary fittings to adapt a set of wings to a motorcycle. "Jay’s very good with retrofitting sidecars to bikes and he has an open mind, so it was kind of a no-brainer to select him for the project" said Thompson from his Issaquah home.

Geise puts it another way – "Leo had a crazy idea, but it’s because we stretch our imaginations that we succeed in our business. I made him sign a waiver beforehand so we were free and clear of any liabilities. Shockingly the thing worked the first time he took off Tiger Mountain."

That first flight off Tiger Mountain was June 20th 2003 at about 10pm. "We didn’t want to make a big deal out of it in case it wasn’t successful" says Thompson. But in the end it was and Thompson took what he learned back to his shed and perfected it. "I actually landed on both wheels at the same time, hit the electric start, and rode the bike back down the road to the house."

At right: Leo Thompson relaxes at home in Issaquah.

The GliderCycle could change adventure motorcycling forever. When fully approved by the FAA the system will allow adventure riders to both ride and fly through places like the Mojave Desert, the Grand Canyon and along Kauai’s Napali Coast, to name just a few. You can also add Ayers Rock, The Amazon and the Egyptian Pyramids to that list.

Unbeknownst to the staff at Wright West BMW, they provided the first bike for the prototype, a BMW F650GS Dakar which they sold to Thompson in early 2003. "We haven’t yet confirmed this with BMW North America yet, but we’re fairly certain this type of retrofit terminates the original manufacturers warranty" commented Wright West’s General Manager, Issac Sweezy. "And I have no idea if we’d be able to get the vehicle insured at this point. Probably not."

Whether you can insure it today or not, there’s no denying the GliderCycle takes flying and riding one step further. But is that as far as it goes? Thompson adamantly says no. Instead he’s already working together with Seattle Cycle Service’s George Dean to develop a propeller system to integrate with the drive train, allowing the GliderCycle to fly independent of air currents, which is it otherwise restricted to now. "It’ll get tricky when you try to create a universal adaptor for the drive train, but we’ll figure it out. We always figure this kind of stuff out" said Dean from his new digs in Mountlake Terrace.

The GliderCycle in it’s present format will make it’s public debut on Sunday, April 31st, once again taking to the skies from the shoulder of Tiger Mountain. TV crews from both the Discovery Wings Channel and the Speed Channel will be on hand for the official inaugural flight.

To view the photo gallery and find out how you can be there too, visit the GliderCycle website.

Patrick Newton/Spring 04

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