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.

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