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Transportation Hardware Technology

NASA Designs All-Electric Personal Flight Vehicle 276

Posted by samzenpus
from the touch-the-sky dept.
MikeChino writes "NASA is currently working on a personal aircraft that will put jet packs to shame. The Puffin is an all-electric one-man airplane that could be the start of some new and amazing air travel technology. With two prop electric engines, lithium phosphate batteries and a top speed of almost 300 mph, the vertical take off and landing vehicle was originally designed for covert military insertions because it has a lower heat signature than combustion engines. The Puffin would also be super quiet – 10 times quieter than current low-noise helicopters, and since the engine is electric it has no flight ceiling and can fly up to 9,150 meters high, uninhibited by thin air."
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NASA Designs All-Electric Personal Flight Vehicle

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  • Re:My question is.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @10:54PM (#30841612) Journal

    Well, let's see...

    FTFA:

    [...] the Puffin can cruise at 240 kilometers per hour [...] With current state-of-the-art batteries, it has a range of just 80 kilometers if cruising [...]

    So it can stay up about 20 minutes.

    It would work for me. I could get to work in about 15 minutes and plug it in. At the end of the day, it's all charged up and I take it home.

    So, yes. I want one.

  • Re:CG concept only (Score:3, Informative)

    by scdeimos (632778) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @10:59PM (#30841636)

    Your V-22 video was an unfortunate example. The V-22/XV-15/BA-609 tilt rotor platform is generally stable and easily controlled, ala this video [youtube.com].

  • by jcr (53032) <jcr@NoSPaM.mac.com> on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @11:13PM (#30841732) Journal

    I don't understand why so many flight related programs are named Icarus.

    It's because most people don't know who you're talking about if you say Daedalus [wikipedia.org].

    -jcr

  • by spidkit (992102) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @11:38PM (#30841856)
    The reference to max altitude being un-inhibited by thin air due to the powerplant not being combustion based is misleading. The term "service ceiling" is used to define the altitude at which (generally), aircraft will not climb at a rate faster than 100 feet per minute in a sustained climb attitude. This is a factor of air density (and max available power) - which affects both power output of the "engine" if this were a combustion engine, as well as the airfoil, and the lift (and drag) it produces (in a fixed wing craft). If the powerplant is electric, one still contends with air density which as a factor in the lift formula: L = (1/2) d v2 s CL, where * L = Lift, which must equal the airplane's weight (and pilot) in pounds * d = density of the air. This will change due to altitude. These values can be found in a I.C.A.O. Standard Atmosphere Table. * v = velocity of an aircraft expressed in feet per second * s = the wing area of an aircraft in square feet * CL = Coefficient of lift , which is determined by the type of airfoil and angle of attack. reference: http://www.grc.nasa.gov/WWW/K-12/WindTunnel/Activities/lift_formula.html [nasa.gov] If the air gets too thin - you're lift value will drop, and if it drops out (pilot plus craft weight) before the battery runs down, the craft will cease to climb because of the drop in air density.
  • by garyebickford (222422) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .cib73rag.> on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @11:40PM (#30841870)

    The other factor is that the typical propeller does become less efficient as the air gets thinner, so there is still a ceiling. Jets (turbofans) have less of an issue with this. From a quick Google, It appears that above Flight Level 240 (24000) the majority of the thrust of a turbofan comes from the jet exhaust, while at sea level most of it comes from the fan.

    For me, the sheer fear factor of looking down from 9000 meters (30,000 feet) in not much more than my flight suit would be more than I'd be ready for.

    But I think this could be the inspiration for the long-awaited personal aerial commuter vehicle - especially if operation can be automated, and if the redundancy mentioned in TFA can achieve no-single-point-of-failure. If routing were handled by a central traffic control system, and local traffic position were handled by an agent swarm, it could work pretty well. The VTOL capabiliy means you could land in a parking space, or on the roof. And the 80 mile cruising range would be sufficient for commuting.

  • by Brett Buck (811747) on Wednesday January 20, 2010 @11:40PM (#30841874)

    This is odd that someone hasn't already cashed in on this. Is this a possible precursor to a simple earth to orbit vehicle?

        Not in any way, shape, or form. Getting to 20-30000 feet, if it was capable of that, with a very small payload, it essentially worthless in terms of orbital. To get into orbit the chief challenge is velocity. To get that (without other far more interesting technical breakthroughs) you need a HUGE rocket with very large amounts of fuel. So there is really no role at all for this teeny little helicoper/VTOL airplane.

              Brett

  • by bertok (226922) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @12:01AM (#30842022)

    I'm not implying they could get into orbit with this vehicle as it obviously will require atmosphere for the rotor blades to be effective, but in a general sense. Specifically getting a launch vehicle as far into the atmosphere as possible before switching to a different means of propulsion like a typical rocket.

    Achieving orbit is about speed ('delta v'), NOT altitude. It takes much more energy to get the horizontal speed to the required level than to reach the required altitude. Getting above the atmosphere helps, but not all that much.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 21, 2010 @12:31AM (#30842182)

    In the US, 17,000 ft and above is restricted airspace, you'd need permission to operate above that altitude.

  • by nicc777 (614519) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @01:08AM (#30842478) Homepage Journal
    "For me, the sheer fear factor of looking down from 9000 meters (30,000 feet) in not much more than my flight suit would be more than I'd be ready for."

    As a skydiver with HALO experience I can tell you that there is nothing to fear. You do not really have depth (or is that height) perception at that altitude. Yes, everything does look tiny and as a skydiver I sometimes wonder if I will make the target (a football field looks like a tiny dot or button below). However, since this is powered flight, that's not really an issue.
  • by FlyingGuy (989135) <flyingguy AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday January 21, 2010 @01:31AM (#30842648)

    Your about 10,000 feet off.

    Class "A" Airspace begins at FL180 (18,000 ft AMSL) and continues up to FL600 (60,000ft AMSL). AMSL = "Above Mean Sea Level"

    To fly in class "A" airspace you must be following a filed IFR Flight Plan and have two way radio communication. These are the only requirements.

    There is one instance where one is required to fly VFR in class "A" airspace. Look it up! I will give you a hint: FAR part 91 and AIM 6-x-x

    yes I am a pilot.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 21, 2010 @01:57AM (#30842812)

    There's your three-holer.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDonnell_Douglas_DC-10

    Cheers

  • by gyrogeerloose (849181) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @02:21AM (#30842926) Journal

    Well Everest is just under 9km up, and people have scaled it without oxygen.

    That may very well be true but, at least in the US, the pilot-in-command of an unpressurized aircraft is required by FAA regulations to use supplemental oxygen when flying at 10,000 or feet for more than a certain amount of time.

  • by khallow (566160) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @02:22AM (#30842938)

    At those altitudes, wouldn't the fact that the air be EXTREMELY cold? (I think -52c or so at 30k feet?)

    The problem is that air is far less dense at those altitudes. There's roughly a third the air at sea level. For example, suppose you're trying to keep the engine below 80C. An air flow at sea level and 20C that barely does it, would be equivalent to a third the airflow at -100C.

  • Re:CG concept only (Score:3, Informative)

    by timeOday (582209) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @03:33AM (#30843254)

    The people that tend to get all vitriolic about the Osprey are generally the people who don't like any spending on military hardware ever.

    To be fair, it has a body count [wikipedia.org] of 30 people in 3 separate incidents, even before it reached operational status. Very few defense programs must own up to that kind of numbers.

    That said, I now see them flying around most days of the week and they are sure cool!

  • by wagnerrp (1305589) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @04:09AM (#30843414)

    From a quick Google, It appears that above Flight Level 240 (24000) the majority of the thrust of a turbofan comes from the jet exhaust, while at sea level most of it comes from the fan.

    While possibly true in practice, it has nothing to do with altitude. Thrust comes from the mass flow rate, times the change in velocity. Aside from fighter jets on afterburner, the exhaust coming out of a jet engine will be subsonic. The speed of sound is proportional to the square root of temperature, so the hot core flow will be much faster than the relatively cool bypass flow.

    So what relevance is this to anything? By 'sea level' the quote you saw probably meant 'take off', or zero forward velocity. FL240 would be cruise at 500-550 knots. You have high mass flow but low velocity through the bypass fan, and high velocity but low mass flow through the core. At cruise speed, the velocity differential of the bypass flow may only be 1/4 what it was static, while the much hotter and faster core flow still has more than half its differential. Modern high bypass turbofans have ratios of 9:1 or better, so the bypass will still be producing more thrust than the core even at the reduced efficiency.

  • by ravenspear (756059) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @04:53AM (#30843614)
    Well Everest is just under 9km up, and people have scaled it without oxygen. However these were mountaineers, and not duty free guzzling pilots.

    Also that's a totally different scenario. High altitudes like that without oxygen while mountain climbing are achievable only by letting the body acclimatize for several weeks at progressively higher altitudes during the climb.

    You take anyone at sea level and put them immediately at 9km up without oxygen, they will pass out within minutes.
  • by Make (95577) <max@@@duempel...org> on Thursday January 21, 2010 @05:07AM (#30843670) Homepage

    The Antares 20E made its maiden flight in 2003. It is a self-launching glider with battery powered engine:

    http://www.lange-aviation.com/htm/english/products/antares_20e/antares_20E.html [lange-aviation.com]

    A wonderful glider. Sad it's so expensive (several 100k euros).

  • Re:Innumeracy? (Score:3, Informative)

    by evilWurst (96042) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @07:00AM (#30844184) Journal

    You're not being bad. The "x times less" construct is really clumsy. IMO, it's mainly journalists and marketers using it; they're just punching (small new number) / (big old number) into a calculator, rounding it, and then the brain shuts off and they just say the new one is (result) times less.

    The slashdot summary blurb is even worse, since sound is measured in decibels, which aren't linear. (IIRC, 3 db is a factor of two... so 33 db would be twice as loud as 30 db, and half as loud as 36 db). So if a normal helicopter was 120 db and the electric was 12 db and someone said "ten times quieter" they'd be very, very, very wrong. The actual article at least gives the electric volume as 50 db and compares it to the volume of spoken conversation, so you can at least ignore the potentially misleading math part in this case. Then again, it says that's the volume from 150 meters away... obviously it'd be much louder for the one flying it.

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