Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Safe Flying, Part II

In this entry, I'm continuing my comments on the USA Today August 18th article by Chris Woodyard and Sharon Silke Carty titled "Inventors are sure cars can fly". The inventors featured in the story all see the convenience of travel through the air. As the authors state: "Of all those stuck stewing in traffic gridlock, who hasn't imagined soaring Jetsons-style directly to a destination?".

In Part I of my response, I give my thoughts on "roadable aircraft" and "flying cars", and how these vehicles fall short of safety for use by most people as a means of transportation. But the idea of traveling off the ground has its obvious merits: no paving over of green space; no collisions between vehicles and pedestrians or animals; much increased capacity. I have presented before my Arc Wing VTOL airplane as the ideal form of safe air transportation, but I don't envision it as a personal flying car. Piloting any aircraft is far more challenging than driving an automobile, which has its own requirements of age, sobriety, alertness and training.

What I propose for general transportation in my Aeroduct System. It too is off the ground, consisting of elevated guideways that can be stacked vertically. The vehicles in these guideways glide on a cushion of air. In other words, these craft fly at a very low altitude of perhap six inches [15.2 cm]. Being confined in the groove, they can be easily automated and thereby available to anyone, regardless of age, sobriety, alertness or training. This is really the safest form of flying, many times safer than any aircraft available today or any time in the future. The bane of pilots, wind, thunderstorms, snow, ice, rain, do not deter the Aeroduct vehicles from making their appointed rounds. And yet the goal of removing transportation from ground level, with all the accompanying advantages that brings, is met. A sketch of an vehicle in an elevated Aeroduct is below, as is a photo of a prototype in action.

I propose, then, aircraft at low altitude in elevated guideways as the best form of a "flying car" (or perhaps "non-road aircraft") possible. This Aeroduct System has many other advantages, among which are that it allows going "directly to a destination", the very understandable goal stated in the USA Today story. I have related all the desirable characteristics of the Aeroduct System in other blog entries and on the website of my company. I invite you, whether or not you have any interest at all in aviation, to look into this very safe, very advantageous form of flying suitable for everyone.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Safe Flying, Part I

The USA Today of August 18th has an article by Chris Woodyard and Sharon Silke Carty titled "Inventors are sure cars can fly". This story reviews current attempts to create automobiles that can also fly, which I would call "roadable aircraft", and personal vehicles that take off and land anywhere, which I would call "flying cars".

Regarding the "roadable" aircraft designs that add wings or some other lift mechanism to a wheeled vehicle, the problems of safety, good performance as a car and as an aircraft, and the price are obvious hindrances. On top of that, these designs require taking off and landing at an airport, which precludes true point to point transportation. But, my biggest concern is safety. Piloting airplanes is not something to be taken casually. To be fair, according to the USA Today article, most of the inventors of the diverse group of roadable aircraft are targeting people who are already small plane pilots. The substantial difference between obtaining and keeping a pilots license and an automobile license, the rigorous testing of a new airplane design that the FAA requires, and the increased maintenance needed by aircraft all point to safety concerns unique to a craft that travels through the sky.

I believe roadable planes are not for the average citizen. The best airplane is a safe airplane, and that requires not only a aerodynamically proper design, it also requires a pilot who can handle the craft properly, in many different kinds of weather. Also, I feel a roadable airplane is not a really big advantage. Having a airplane that can also travel on roads seems better because conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) airplanes need an airport for departure and takeoff, and also require an automobile for getting to and from the airports. But, what if the airplane could take off and land vertically? There would be no need for the automobile part of the journey. A traveler could go from his real departure point to his real destination.

Of course, I am not the only person who promulgates the advantages of vertical flight craft. In the USA Today article, some of the inventors cited want to offer vehicles that can take off and land virtually anywhere, in other words, flying cars. My main concern with their approach is again, safety. I don't think the technologies employed by these inventors are safe enough. As I said in my blog entry about the Osprey V-22 tilt rotor aircraft, "In total power failure or 'running out of gas', the V-22 is a free falling body below 1600 feet altitude. It cannot use its wing for gliding flight to non disastrous landing,". I also criticized that aircraft as being overly complex. I would say the same about the technologies that are currently proposed to create truly flying cars. They require redundancies and complexities that decrease safety, and they do not have wings that can be used for gliding to safety in the event of a major mechanical failure. They have no air worthiness on their own. And, it is completely unknown what level of skill will be required to pilot these kind of craft safely. Again even if these vehicles can be made to work effectively, which is yet to be seen, could they ever be piloted by most people?

Those of you who have read my blog entries before know that I propose a VTOL airplane, which has the built in safety characteristics of winged craft, and yet can take off and land vertically. I call it the Arc Wing VTOL airplane. A sketch of it is below. You can read more about this unique airplane at previous blog entries, or at the website of my company.

I think this is the best way to eliminate the need for a vehicle to have both wheels and wings. But this craft is for those who are airplane pilots or have a pilot at their disposal. I don't advocate it as a replacement for all transportation. I have another way that "flight" of a certain kind can be used for more general transport. In part II of my response to the USA Today article, I will elaborate on that.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Ideal Fuel for Ideal Transportation

I've discoursed quite a bit about the Aeroduct System, which consists of air cushion vehicles in elevated guideways. You can learn the many advantages of this ground transportation system from earlier blogposts, or from the Aeromobile website.

Today, my focus in on the important advantages of the Aeroduct System with regard to fuels and the fueling process. Our vehicles can use any fuel, petroleum or otherwise. However, I think the future of energy belongs to hydrogen. There are many technological considerations concerning the production and distribution of hydrogen, but in the long run, I feel it is the most environmentally advantageous way to power vehicles.

One of the big expenses in moving towards a "hydrogen economy" is the need for a new infrastructure that distributes this fuel. As John Dodge, Editor-in-Chief of Design News says in his July 15th article, "Despite the extensive progress auto makers have made in developing hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCV), energy companies have largely sat on the sidelines with only a couple of exceptions in building out a refueling infrastructure." For automobiles to make use of hydrogen, the refueling stations will have to be as plentiful as gasoline stations are now for drivers to not feel inconvenienced. This component alone of the hydrogen economy will be a big expense to construct.

With the Aeroduct System, we have the significant advantage of building the refueling locations as part of the Aeroduct infrastructure. As the Aeroduct transportation system is implemented, hydrogen refueling stations can be conveniently located within the system. And, just as travel in the Aeroduct System is completely automated, so will be the fueling process. It can be done with or without passengers in the vehicle, at any time of day or night. The Aeroduct System is intended to replace automobiles and trucks as the chief form of ground transportation. Concomitant with that will be replacement of petroleum based fuels with hydrogen. So, we will have ideal fuel for the ideal transportation system.

We certainly welcome a dialog with those interested in the future of transportation and the future of energy.