NHRA - National Hot Rod Association

Look, up in the sky, it's the Kite Cycle!

04 Jul 2008
Phil Burgess, NHRA National Dragster Editor

That daring young man on his flying machine.

Here’s a little something different on this star-spangled weekend, prompted by a letter from regular reader/e-mailer Mark Watkins, who first wanted to make sure that Capt. Jack McClure’s rocket-powered go-kart was on the short list of exhibition vehicles in our upcoming Favorite Cars competition (it is) but also couldn’t quite come up with the name of another Orange County entertainment favorite: “the guy who flew the hang glider mounted on a motorcycle and the guy who used to skate behind the motorcycle at OCIR.”

I had little trouble summoning the name “Bob Correll” from my memory banks after watching him and his Kite Cycle soaring through the Southern California night on so many occasions, sparklers sparkling from the wing tips as he glided over 18-wheelers and, my favorite, the 64 Funny Car lineups. I remember one time when he didn’t quite clear them all, landing on the back window of some innocent gas-powered Mustang Funny Car, leaving a tire mark down its back, but most of the time, he easily cleared his obstacle.

On the surface, it didn't look like too tricky of a stunt once he got airborne. Surely the landing would be softer than some of the back-breaking touchdowns the regular bike jumpers made. My 16-year-old brain even thought at one time, "Heck, I'm a pretty fair motorcycle rider; dude, I bet I could jump with that damn thing." (I did, after all, successfully land a neighborhood-record jump over six trash cans and a second, more breathtaking mark of clearing seven small neighborhood kids. Shhh. Don't tell my mom. Or theirs.)

Of course, from what I could see, just getting airborne was the easy part. Crosswinds, downdrafts, and Mustangs also apparently were all part of what made it tricky. I think I only saw him eat it the one time, but it was always a great sight to watch him soaring through the evening sky still heavy with nitro fumes.

A lot of guys did the whole sliding-behind-the-bike thing, from Lee “Iron Man” Irons all the way up through the fairly recent “Krazy Keith” Kardell, who performed at NHRA national events well into the 1990s – and there have been hang-glider-equipped motorcycle jumpers since, but Correll was the original.

So, while waiting for David Rampy to return my call to interview him following his Comp win in Norwalk – victory number 69, tying him with Kenny Bernstein for sixth on NHRA’s all-time win list – I put on my researcher cap and went fishing. What I found blew me away.

It turns out that the famed Kite Cycle -- - a 450cc Yamaha attached to a 12-foot hang glider, was brought to us by the same genius who invented the car-munching metallic monster known as Robosaurus AND, for you Evel Knievel fans out there (talking to you, Drummond!), the infamous steam-powered X-1 Sky Cycle for Knievel’s not-so-successful Snake River Canyon jump.

Doug Malewicki, who brought us the Kite Cycle, the Sky Cycle, and Robosaurus. Truly one for the Guy Hall of Fame!

This amazing man is Doug Malewicki, president and “chief scientist” for AeroVisions Inc., a company he founded in 1974 and incorporated in 1980 “for the purpose of developing, promoting and commercializing his numerous inventions.”

According to his Web site, in the early 1980s, Malewicki set two Guinness world records by getting more than 150 mpg at freeway speeds on cross-country runs in a car he called the California Commuter and now is focused on SkyTran, “a super-aerodynamic, lightweight, high-speed, low-cost, on-demand” personalized rail-bound transit system (which might have also set a Guinness record for most adjectives) that will get 200 mpg at 100 mph.

He has also been working on a micro-turbine-powered jet pack that will provide an eight-minute flight capability on $30 worth of fuel. Sign me up, Doug!

Malewicki, 68, a senior structural loads analyst on the Apollo/Saturn V rocket project that carried man to the moon in 1969, earned a master's of science degree in aeronautics and astronautics from Stanford University and a bachelor's of science degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from the University of Illinois, so he obviously knows a little bit about flight, which might explain how Correll set a 423-foot world distance record with the Kite Cycle.

Malewicki also brought the world a two-man Delta submarine rated to depths of 1,200 feet (unlike those great comic-book subs we all tried to buy), a 152.2-mph world-record pedal bicycle, a turbine thrust-powered motorcycle, and White Lightning, a world-record Bonneville Salt Flats electric car that ran 245.524 mph.

Yours to own, just $575,000. Where's the checkbook?

Malewicki also holds a dozen patents in aviation, robot, medical, toy, and transportation fields, two of which are for Robosaurus, a “58,000-pound, fire-breathing, car crushing electrohydromechanical beast” (still more adjectives!). In addition to delighting race fans across the country, Robosaurus has been featured on the big and small screen, in the 2002 movie Waking Up in Reno and in a 2006 Toyota Tacoma pickup TV commercial.

I guess I missed my chance to own the beast when it went on the block at the Barrett-Jackson car collector auction back in January and was sold for $575,000 (not including auction fees). The lucky winner not only got the Robosaurus but a host of accessories to operate and maintain the robot, including transmitters and receivers, special-effects controls, a tool kit for loading and unloading, operation manuals, touch-up paint, and spare parts.

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I had spoken to Correll some years ago after receiving in the mail this wild design, drawn by Dave Peters, of a proposed new jet car modeled after the famed SR-71 Blackbird. This wild-looking machine had the driver in the faux left-jet-engine tub at the rear of the machine. Unfortunately, it never made it past this point in the process.

I’ve since lost touch with him -- DragList.com showed that he’d moved from California to Florida, where he had campaigned a jet-powered motorcycle -- and there's an appalling lack of stories on him on the Web, but I'll keep hanging in there (pun intended) and digging for info. He left an indelible impression on me and a lot of other car-crazed teenagers.