A levopter is a wind-powered aircraft.
A levopter is not a glider. Gliders rely upon vertical wind currents that vary with seasons, time of day, and geography making gliders impractical for long range transportation. Levopters, on the other hand, derive their lift and power from the much more consistent horizontal wind currents present in the atmosphere. The figure depicts the unique method employed by a levopter to derive lift and power from wind currents at different altitudes.
Levopters have two flexible wings connected by cables to the body of the levopter. These wings are made of nylon fabric and they look a lot like the parachutes used by skydivers. One of the wings is situated close to the body of the levopter. The other wing is situated at a much higher altitude.
In the Earth’s atmosphere, the wind at higher altitudes is stronger than the wind nearer to the Earth’s surface. The difference between these wind strengths provides the power to create lift and propulsion for the levopter.
Key characteristics of levopters
• Levopters will require no fuel making them inexpensive to operate.
• Levopters will fly autonomously like drones. Eliminating the need for a pilot further reduces the cost of operating a levopter.
• Levopters will produce no greenhouse gases, making them environmentally friendly.
• The fuselage of the levopter will remain at low altitudes avoiding the cost and weight of a pressurized fuselage.
• The levopter’s wings will be made of fabric reducing the cost to build.
• Levopters will be able to fly slowly, allowing them to operate from any open area without the need for runways.
• Levopters will be slower than conventional aircraft but typically much faster than ground transportation.
As important as food is, these people want more from life than simply to eat. They want to send their children to school, buy decent clothes, purchase simple tools and be able to afford health care. If possible, they want to go even further to improve the lives of their families with basics such as electric power and clean water.
To accomplish such aspirations, these farmers try to grow more than they need so that they can sell their surplus crops to pay for things they can’t grow. The problem is, subsistence farmers mostly live where the roads are in such bad condition they are not able to reach a decent market to sell their crops or they sell to traveling middlemen for very low prices.
It is the objective of the Wings4Farmers project to break the stranglehold of bad roads. We intend to do it by literally flying over the problems on the ground. This will be made possible by using an ultra-inexpensive type of aircraft called a levopter.
Levopters hold the promise of being able to fly the crops of farmers to much better markets to help them earn far more money than they currently make. On return flights, levopters will be able to bring purchases to farmers such as better farm tools, water pumps, medicine and wind or solar powered generators.
The Wings4Farmers service will bring benefit to those who need it most – Africa’s women and children. The New York Times reports that the typical farmer in the region is a woman3)http://www.nytimes.com/cfr/world/slot2_20080528.html?pagewanted=print&_r=0 and Nike Corporation points out that “When women earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent for a man.”4)http://dalcs.com/?page_id=157 Levopters just might add the mobility women need to change their lives and the lives of their families.
The Wings4Farmers team comprises 11 people. Hank DeBey, the inventor of the levopter concept, has spent over six years living and working in Africa where lessons learned led to the conviction that the best chance for levopter success was to carry out the development of levopters in Africa with the people of Africa.
The Wings4Farmers base in Bamako, Mali provides benefits including:
Providing career opportunities to university graduates of Mali.
Receiving local input during the development and testing phases
Better understanding of the physical environments where levopters will be used
Better understanding of the cultural environments where levopters will be used
Finding partners in different regions of Africa to ensure efficient roll-out and operations
Developing a solution that will be seen as made by Africans for the benefit of Africans
Africa may not seem like the most logical location to carry out the development of a new type of aircraft but there are several reasons for locating the Wings4Farmers development in Africa.
The first two issues that pointed toward Africa were traffic and weather. Initial testing of levopter prototypes was done on the American prairie East of Denver, Colorado but once the basic levopter concept was confirmed there was a need to find a more ideal location for testing. There is a need to test where there is not a lot of aircraft traffic and where there is very little cloud cover.
The yellow lines in the left image show the density of aircraft traffic and Wings4Farmers sought an area without a lot of yellow lines. Northern Africa, Southern Africa, Australia and parts of Asia show limited air traffic.
The image on the right indicates the amount of cloud cover through the course of the year. Again, Northern Africa, Southern Africa, Australia and a small section of Asia stand out.
The issue that narrowed the choice to Sub-Saharan Africa was one of need. In Sub-Saharan Africa, only 34% of the people have access to a reliable road. During much of the year, they are cut off from the rest of the world because of the lack of decent roads. Levopters can free these people from the stranglehold of bad roads.
Developments of new technology are often carried out in developed countries and then brought to a developing region like Africa only to find out that the new technology doesn’t really work in Africa or that the people there resist using it because it is foreign to them. Locating developments in Africa means local input and advice will be readily available and as a result, levopters will be an African aircraft made in Africa by Africans for Africans.
Once Sub-Saharan Africa was selected, a team was recruited to carry out development in a region where levopters can be most beneficial. Moving developments to Bamako, Mali has already shown benefit. Early discussions with farmers led to the modification of the initial levopter concept from carrying a ton of cargo, much like a pickup truck, to splitting that ton up into 6 cargo pods to service smaller farmers. Further discussions led to the technique for collecting and transferring cargo without the need for landing a levopter. For more information see the section on How Levopters Will Be Used.