Young Engineers Build Ride-On Drones to Fulfil Childhood Dreams

RMIT aerospace engineers are building the first Australian single pilot hovercraft for recreational use.


The group is representing Australia in Boeing’s worldwide GoFly competition worth $1million US, with their entry on display this week at Australia’s biggest air show in Avalon.

RMIT Senior Lecturer Dr Graham Dorrington, who is overseeing the prototype’s development, said the team were blazing a trail by producing the largest personal electric vehicle in Australia.

“A growing number of global ventures are vying to introduce electric-powered air vehicles capable of vertical take-off and landing so it’s vital that Australia keeps pace with the emerging technologies driving this nascent market.”

Dorrington and other senior researchers are advising RMIT students and recent graduates of aerospace engineering, who are taking the lead.

Project lead and final year RMIT aerospace engineering student Stephen Hardiman said the commitment, enthusiasm and expertise of the team was propelling the project.

“We’ve all been here every day and sometimes into the night, working through our summer holidays to get this off the ground,” he said.

“Despite all the hard work and some setbacks along the way, it’s been one of the best years of my life working on this.”

The model takes a 4-rotor drone design scaled up to an eight-foot-long craft that can carry a person in a canopy similar to that of an F1 racing car pod.

It’s made of an aluminium frame with foam and carbon fibre walls. The next stage of the design will incorporate wings.

RMIT aerospace engineering student Stephanie McCulloch said the craft would be able to take off vertically, meaning it wouldn’t require an airstrip or large space to take off and land, and featured simplified controls so there’d be no requirement for formal training

“The concept is a personal and affordable recreational vehicle that you can race other people in, without the need for hours of flight training or the massive amounts of money associated,” she said.

“It’s taking aerospace into the next generation of personal use vehicles and shows what university students, academics and industry can produce together. These competitions are great for bringing to life the next wave of ideas and innovations.”

“I see all of this work proving useful one day and helping concepts like Uber Air become reality sooner rather than later.”

The team launched a start-up, X-Aero, aided by RMIT Activator, with the aim of commercialising designs for the next generation of personal flying vehicles.

“Start-ups are really driving tech innovation, so it’s such an exciting time to be involved – we’re learning skills we will soon require for pursuing a career in aviation,” McCulloch said.

“Also, having something so wonderful to show for all your learning, at the end of the degree is a massive bonus.”

Several of the team members said flying their own personal craft had long been a childhood dream, one they may now be close to achieving.