Published July 8, 2012
For nearly forty years, Steve Saint has brought humanitarian aid to the Waodani Indians, the very people who killed his dad, Nate Saint, a mission pilot who was martyred in Ecuador with four other missionaries in 1956. Steve said his motivation to forgive his dad’s killers came from 2 Corinthians 5:18 — “Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” (NASB)
Through Steve’s encouragement, the Ecuadorians have been using light aircraft and powered parachutes to bring supplies and medical aid to their villages. Because some jungle areas are difficult to reach, Steve wanted to provide them with a vehicle that could land on a small strip of grass and then drive off on narrow roads into the brush. Literally, a flying car.
Assembled by Steve’s staff at ITEC (Indigenous Peoples Technology and Education Center), the Maverick, suspended from a single wing, floats over the treetops and, once on the ground, converts into an ATV that can handle bumpy jungle roads or high-speed highways.
“This project is capable of changing people’s lives. That’s our dream,” said Steve, his face glowing with enthusiasm as he showed off a completed Maverick on the tarmac at his facility in Dunnellon.
Recalling the night before his first test flight in the Maverick, Steve said he just lay in bed imagining what it was going to be like.
“The next day, when I took off, I just gave it full power going into the wind,” said Steve. “It just touched the grass on one side and took off. It was very stable. This was something brand new to me. Your adrenaline is going so fast and your mind is rushing. When I got down, I just wanted to fall in the grass and lie there and do nothing.”
Certified by the FAA as a Light Sport Aircraft, the Maverick evolved from Steve’s earlier design called a Cockroach, so named because of its bug-like appearance. One of the first modifications involved reducing the Cockroach’s double mast to a single mast, which gave the Maverick more stability on the ground. The telescoping mast can be stowed within minutes by one person, and the craft is ready for the road.
different models of the Maverick have a variety of options, from personalized color schemes to high-speed tires and vinyl side windows. The lightweight chromoly tubing construction and carbon fiber hood can have an optional canvas “tuxedo.” In future designs, Steve also envisions floats for water landing and skis for traversing on snow.
The project has opened doors for North American engineering students who also have an interest in flying, said Troy Townsend, chief operating officer for ITEC.
“We allow high level engineers to come here and work on a flying car. Who wouldn’t want to do that?” Troy said. “If they want to learn about aviation, we provide an avenue for them to do that.”
The Maverick recently caught the interest of an independent filmmaker who is putting together a documentary on flying cars, set to air on the Smithsonian Channel at the end of this year or early 2013.
In a telephone interview, Washington, D.C.-based Pip Gilmour said, in addition to several private entrepreneurs, some high-tech organizations, such as NASA and DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), have similar projects in the works.
“Some are more exciting than others, but this is one of the goodies,” Pip said of the Maverick. “Up until now, people have made a joke of the flying car. All of that’s going to change. When you put those high level names behind the investments, you can’t consider it a joke anymore.”
Pip recalled the foggy morning in early May when she and a film crew showed up at Dunnellon Airport, early in the morning.
“As dawn broke, they put up the parachute,” she said. “In the morning sunlight it’s just beautiful. But, then, when you see it actually flying, it’s magical.”
ITEC’s Beyond Roads division is placing Mavericks throughout the world. A sheikh from Dubai recently purchased one to use while monitoring the animals on his preserve. The funds from such purchases help to subsidize Mavericks bought by mission groups through a build-your-own program.
Though initially designed for humanitarian purposes, the Maverick can be used for border patrol, pipeline monitoring, farming, and extreme sports. The operation is so simple, anyone with twelve hours of powered parachute training can fly it, including the Ecuadorian Indians, said Steve’s son, Jesse Saint, director of Beyond Roads.
“We were looking for something that would cover the need for getting over the trees but easy to train someone even if they don’t know how to read and write,” he said. “The main thing that got us going on it was the same reason my grandpa was in Ecuador in the 1950s. We’re getting into third-world countries and getting the gospel where it hasn’t been.”
Recalling a recent mission trip to Ecuador, Jim Tingler, associate director of ITEC’s Life University, described it as a grueling experience.
“We had to take a bus for four hours, and then hiked down a trail for three hours to get to a village. It was very muddy terrain. The mud was basically up to just below our knees. If we were able to fly over that, what would take an hour would take minutes in the air. So, that would be one way this would be implemented, to reach those people who are beyond roads.”
FAA certified Special — Light Sport or Experimental Amateur-Built Aircraft
Measures 5 feet, 8 inches wide
The wing can be deployed by one person and it’s ready to fly in five minutes
Can climb up to 1,200 feet per minute
Can clear a 50-foot obstacle 300 feet away
Can reach a 10,000-foot altitude
Has a 190 HP, injected, 2.5 liter Subaru Engine
Dual drive (transaxle/propeller)
Public road licensable
Highway Speed: up to 100 mph
Airspeed: 40 mph
Current base price, $94,000
For information, call (352) 465-4545.
WORDS BY MARIAN RIZZO