In a galaxy far, far, away, long before Marty McFly escaped Biff and his gang on a hoverboard in "Back to the Future II," there was the speeder bike. This fictional military vehicle, designed to deftly fly over rough terrain, became an instant sci-fi hit when it was introduced in 1983's "Return of the Jedi." Any kid who saw it instantly wanted to try it. Within the next decade, a select few may get their chance.

The U.S. Army recently signed a contract with SURVICE Engineering and Malloy Aeronautics to develop a "hoverbike" capable of shuttling soldiers over water and land at speeds approaching 60 mph. In addition to carrying payloads of between 400 to 800 pounds, the bike will also come with both manned and unmanned options.

But first –– and this is where you're allowed to truly get excited –– SURVICE and Malloy will release a commercial version within the next three to five years. While the unit is currently in early development, it's estimated that the final product will be able to carry up to 250 pounds and travel for about 45 minutes.

That news follows headlines from another company, Aerofex, which is developing its own hoverbike capable of rising about 10 feet off the ground and carrying up to 250 pounds. Called the Aero-X, it can remain in hover-mode for 75 minutes and reach speeds up to 45 mph. According to the developers, owners won't need a pilot's license because the hoverbike is operated just like a motorcycle (meaning lean and steer) and not like an aircraft.

The founders of the Aero-X see their product as more than just a joyride, with wide-ranging uses for this new mode of transportation.

“The Aero-X will have a positive impact on agriculture, herd management, and geo-surveying – particularly in those parts of the world lacking general aviation,” says Mark De Roche, the company’s CTO and founder. “It’s intuitive operation, low cost, and unique capabilities make it suitable for disaster relief, search and rescue, and patrolling borders and game parks. We believe it will enable low-altitude utility previously unavailable due to cost and training barriers.”

Aerofex plans to conduct its first commercial test flight in 2016, with deliveries for those who can afford the estimated $85,000 price tag starting at the end of 2017. In other words, the future that Marty McFly saw –– and that Princess Leia took off on –– may only be a few years away.

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Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.

U.S. Army developing a futuristic 'hoverbike'
Forget the hoverboard, this 'Star Wars'-esque speeder is next on our wish list of the future.