A member of North Kildonan MB Church, Winnipeg, is helping the Holy Grail of aviation become a reality: an airplane that can take off and land vertically the way a helicopter does.
Dan Klaue was recruited in February 2008 by Garrow Aircraft, a California-based aviation company, to work on developing the Verticopter convertiplane, an aircraft capable of vertical take-off and landing (www.verticopter.com).
“We want to be able to transport people from point to point, not airport to airport,” the 31-year-old says.
Helicopters can do that, but they are slow, high maintenance, and consume a lot of fuel. The Verticopter combines the best aspects of airplanes with the best aspects of helicopters.
Klaue caught Garrow’s attention with a virtual model of a convertiplane he had been developing with X-Plane, a flight simulator for personal computers that accurately predicts the way a design will work in real life. He made a video of his work and posted it on YouTube.
Garrow, who holds the patent for the Verticopter, had been working on designs of his own. When he came across the YouTube clip, he realized Klaue had worked out some of the very problems he was facing. Garrow contacted him, and Klaue became one of the first employees of what is now a 20-person operation. Klaue does all the company’s 3D design and media work.
Garrow describes Klaue as an “extremely generous and hardworking person.”
“He’s been totally dedicated to the project and very relentless at solving problems,” Garrow says. “He applies the same creativity to everything he does. He’s a very impressive person.”
For Klaue, who works full-time as an audio engineer at Family Life Network, involvement with the Verticopter is a dream come true. Growing up as the son of missionaries in Ecuador, he always had a passion for flying. He built his first model plane at age 7 and has worked on almost 60 more, all but one built from scratch.
“My dream was always to contribute to the aviation world with a design that was unique,” says Klaue. He never pursued a career as a pilot because he gets migraines at high altitudes. Ten years ago, Klaue discovered X-Plane and began modelling planes virtually instead of physically.
“I was able to see my creations fly and even be more creative because you don’t have to pay for materials and a crash doesn’t cost you anything.”
He started working on convertiplane models after reading about them in Popular Science.
Klaue says he spends all his evenings and weekends working on the Verticopter. The four-stage plan is to start with virtual models, move to radio-controlled models, then drone models, and finally Verticopters operated by human pilots. Right now, the company is at the second stage; Klaue anticipates they are two or three years away from drone models.
That could change, however, if an investor comes forward with a large amount of money to fund the project. A possible investor could be the military – something Klaue, as a pacifist, is uneasy about.
“One of the things I’m really happy about is that the Verticopter can’t carry weapons,” he says. That’s because the aircraft always needs to maintain the same centre of gravity. “Still, even the idea that it could be used for military surveillance makes me queasy.”
Klaue would rather see the Verticopter used for peaceful applications, like monitoring forest fires.
“The way I tend to see this project is that God has entrusted it to me. If it’s in God’s interest, then I’m assuming he has a plan for it.”