Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Crowded Streets

On September 19th, as reported by station CBS 2 in Los Angeles, one of the light rail lines in that city, the Blue Line, collided with a out of service bus. Fortunately, injuries to the 15 passengers of the light rail train were not major. But, if the bus had been in service, there could have been many more injuries.

Light rail is used in numerous cities to transport people relatively quickly along fixed corridors. Like the streetcars of the old days, these light rail trains operate on the same street level as cars, trucks, buses, and pedestrians (In the old days, there were horses, too). This makes for a crowded transportation environment, and crashes involving light rail trains on the one hand and cars and buses on the other hand have occurred with some frequency. This is what one would expect when all transportation occurs on the same level. Certainly, there are safety measures to limit the number of these kinds of light rail accidents, but coordinating the activities of trains, buses, trucks, cars, bicycles and people walking all on the same streets and sidewalks is quite a challenge.

And, confining transportation to one level inherently limits the number of people who can travel. Congestion is the norm on many streets. At Aeromobile Inc., we think it is far better to elevate vehicle transportation, leaving the ground level for pedestrians and bicycles. This would not only make travel far safer for all involved, but much more efficient. Our Aeroduct System can be elevated with lightweight, transparent or translucent guideways, operating over the heads of those walking, and causing far less shadowing than any other form of raised level transportation.

Putting trains or cars or buses overhead is very expensive, since those elevated structures must be made very strong to sustain constant weight and pounding. In addition, they create quite a shadow on the ground below. New York City had for many years its "El" trains running on most of the north south avenues in Manhattan. Increased subway coverage rendered these Els obsolete and they were removed by the 1950s. The shadowing caused by the structures necessary to support those overhead trains was considerable, and most considered that undesirable. In our times, in the "Loop" area of Chicago, its elevated trains converge and there is pronounced shadowing on a number of streets.

Since the Aeroduct System uses air cushion vehicles in its guideways, those guideways do not have to carry the enormous weight and endure the tremendous pounding generated by automobiles, trucks, buses and trains. They can be made out of lightweight materials, of any degree of transparency or of any color. Not only could the guideways look attractive, their shadowing effect could be very minimal. And, the Aeroduct System is a very efficient in the way it transports vehicles, so more travelling and yet fewer traffic slowdowns will be the norm. All of this will require less cost, both for the guideways and the efficient air cushion vehicles in the guideways.

You can read about the many advantages of the Aeroduct System at the Aeromobile Inc. website and other blog entries.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Hydrogen Solutions

In the September 23rd edition of the New York Times, Jad Mouawad's article called "Pumping Hydrogen" discusses the opening of a Shell station in Santa Monica, California, that is the first public filling station in the USA for hydrogen used in fuel-cell cars. This seminal event bodes well for the future, but as Mr. Mouawad points out:
And many energy companies remain skeptical of the long-term prospects for hydrogen, arguing, among other things, that even with government help the infrastructure costs would be enormous. ...

The largest obstacle remains the size and cost of the infrastructure needed to produce and distribute the hydrogen. The nagging issue is how to replicate a model that has served the petroleum age so well, and that was developed over a century.
There is no question that without an infrastructure for dispensing hydrogen for fuel-cell cars, not many of those cars will be made or used, their prices will remain uneconomical, and the potential of hydrogen will remain unfulfilled.

I've said it before, and I remake the point. Our Aeroduct System is the best way to implement hydrogen as the vehicle fuel of the future. The Aeroduct System, consisting of air cushion vehicles traversing lightweight elevated guideways, already represents a complete change in the ground transportation infrastructure. Implementing hydrogen fueling stations in this new infrastructure would be just another task needed to complete the new infrastructure. As the elevated guideways are built, the hydrogen fueling stations would become stops (or stations) along the guideways, along with stops for homes, offices, hospitals, schools, and so on.

And, not only will building a new infrastructure allow for complete integration of hydrogen stations into the Aeroduct System, the vehicles in the Aeroduct are the best at using the fuel. They need less power than automobiles, and are automated so they can refuel with or without anyone in the vehicle. Less hydrogen will be needed for powering the air cushion craft, and automated refueling will mean less human effort and less risk for fueling mishaps.

I believe hydrogen is the best fuel for the future. Of the main impediments facing employment of this non polluting fuel, the Aeroduct System solves the problem of how to build hydrogen fueling stations that are abundant as needed, and it simultaneously provides an economy of scale for fuel cell makers. The numerous craft in the Aeroduct will all use hydrogen fuel cells, and that will greatly decrease the costs of making fuel cells.

You can read about the many other advantages of the Aeroduct System at the Aeromobile Inc. website and other blog entries.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Building Better Bridges

Roads and Bridges magazine devotes itself to issues related to today's wheel based transportation infrastructure consisting, as the journal's name suggests, primarily of roads and bridges. In the August 2008 edition, editor Bill Wilson in his article "Ahead of Its Time" summarizes the successes in building the I-35W St. Anthony Falls Bridge in Minneapolis. This new bridge replaces the prior one that collapsed without warning in August of 2007. The article points out the faster than expected progress that was made, and the challenges faced in trying to quickly replace the faulty structure that had fallen last August.

From his article, it is clear that much intelligence and planning were involved in building the new bridge. This accomplishment reflects the many years of experience by those who designed and built the new structure. In the same publication,
authors John Chiglo and Alan Phipps in their article "Brain waves over water waves" talk about the advanced technologies employed in the bridge that would help alert authorities to any potential problems before any serious failure.

In many ways, the new Minneapolis I-35W St. Anthony Falls Bridge represents the state of the art in infrastructure design and construction. Of course, all of this costs a great deal of money: $234,000,000 was the bid made by the primary contractor and the design team. Given the large number of bridges in the USA, some far longer that the one in Minneapolis, replacing all bridges with this kind of new construction will cost a very large amount of money. When the original Minneapolis bridge collapsed, many were worried that other bridges could suffer a similar fate, since many were reaching the end of their original projected lifespan, and just about all bridges, new or old, support more traffic than they were originally designed to hold.

Cars and trucks give bridges a tremendous pounding, which is why they must be built strong in the first place, and why they wear out over time. Their cement and steel components must be strong because the bridge is doing a yeoman's job in allowing thousands and thousands of heavy vehicles to cross over water. So, these bridges must be costly to build and costly to maintain, and of finite lifespan.

There is way to better use all that money needed to build bridges (and roads and elevated roads, too). A transportation system that does not require massive bridges would be much more efficient and economical. Our Aeroduct System, discussed in these blog entries, and on our website, will require passage over water in guideways that are far lighter, cheaper and longer lasting than any automobile/truck bridge could be. Bridges today are basically beat with a hammer every second of every day as heavy cars and even heavier trucks cross them. In contrast, the vehicles in our Aeroduct System glide through their guideways on a cushion of air, having a very light touch on the guideway surface. Aeroduct bridges can still be built using the intelligence and advanced sensing technologies available for cement and steel bridges, but with lighter and more flexible materials and much longer lifespans.

The color sketch below shows the simplicity of an Aeroduct bridge crossing a river. For wider rivers or other bodies of water, supports would be needed for the guideway, but those supports will have much less work to do than the supports for the bridges of today. The replacement of the much of our aging bridge infrastructure with the Aeroduct infrastructure would save a great amount of money in the building and maintenance of the structures, and the safety of using them. This is just one way of many Aeroduct System installations can make transportation far better than it is today.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Sikorsky X-2: A Half Way Solution

As reported by Aviation Week and Flight Global, Sikorsky has recently completed the first test flight of its X2 high speed, compound helicopter. Sikorsky expects this rotorcraft to have a maximum speed of 250 knots when all stages of testing are complete. The X2 has been in development this decade, and is a follow up to the Advancing Blade Concept Demonstrator of the 1970s known as the Sikorsky S-69 / XH-59. The new X2 is using fly-by-wire controls to help minimize blade vibration that created problems for the earlier S-69 / XH-59.

If the X2 can really fly at 250 knots, it will be about 100 knots faster than most helicopters today. That is a quite significant advance in rotorcraft speed, and Sikorsky should be commended for this advance. A reasonably fast vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) craft is certainly desirable.

But, at Aeromobile Inc. we think that faster helicopters are still not the ideal VTOL craft. We prefer an airplane with vertical capabilities to a helicopter that flies faster. Our reasons include:
  • Airplanes are inherently safer than helicopters, requiring less maintenance and glidable to earth when power fails. All rotorcraft must have a minimum altitude usually 1500 feet to auto rotate, and it remains to be seen how well the counter-rotating rotors of the X2 auto rotate in the event of power loss.
  • With the X2, the slowing of the rotors to prevent them from going supersonic and vibrating excessively has to be done with computer assistance (the"fly-by-wire" element of the control system). This adds complexity, and we will see how reliable that control system works. We feel that complexity means more expense and more risk for failure.
  • The requirement of special rotorcraft training, and the high price limits the availability of helicopters to many that need vertical flight.
  • Helicopters basically force themselves in the air and need constant rotor action to remain in the air. They do not have the aerodynamic efficiencies of airplanes and consume more fuel, which in periods of high fuel costs makes them even more expensive and therefore less available.
We have touted our Arc Wing VTOL Airplane many times in this blog and on our website. We still feel that an airplane with vertical flight capabilities is the best VTOL of all. Our Arc Wing VTOL will fly 100 knots faster than the proposed 250 knots of the X2. It is mechanically far simpler than any helicopter, especially the more complex X2. It can be flown by an airplane pilot without any computer assistance or complicated mechanisms in changing from vertical to horizontal mode and vice-versa. And, with its simpler design, it will be considerably less expensive to build and operate than a fast helicopter.