Monday, October 25, 2010

Ar-drone flying

I referred to the AR-drone in previous article about flying car. We produced a short video about Ar-drone flying:

iPad provides control input (which direction one wants to go) and the computer inside the AR-drone provides artificial stability (so it is very easy to fly unlike RC-helicopters).

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Thinking out of the box: The case for flying car

I have been thinking what would make "flying cars" feasible. I think the answer is pretty much that it needs to be VTOL. Anything that lands on runway will become very complex design mechanically. A real solution would be to land on the car anywhere, e.g. shop parking lot - otherwise it would be just a clumsy non-optimal airplane.

So what are the breakthroughs needed for this? I doubt that the internal combustion engines can do this ever very well and turbines are out of question as well because nobody can afford flying to shop with turbine power. So I think this will require electric motors and advanced battery technology. Hybrid design could possibly work too.

Large helicopter propeller blades will become a problem when landing on congested place and it would cause also safety issues. You could hit something with the rotating prop and newspapers would be full of horrific accidents very soon. Someone sliced somebody or sliced somebody's house or whatever. The props should be shrouded for safety of general public. Then how many props? One prop and it will require tail and tail rotor. Not so nice. Coaxial rotors, that would be better but still will require one to be helicopter pilot. I think the case of how it would work is very simple, and the case example already exists in small scale as sort of "RC copter":

So computer controlled fly by wire and the user would be just selecting to go forward or backward or up or down or to rotate. Computer handles the rest. Each prop would have electric motors, big ones instead of the small ones found from the little thing. This plane could even have small wings, which could be optimized for cruise only (and not for landing at all) and could be possibly pivoting - when airspeed increases less vertical thrust would be needed. This could be "the flying car" that everybody can control. Not everybody can become a helicopter pilot or even airplane pilot - requirements are all the time becoming more and more and less and less will ever succeed to become pilots (from those who dared to start the training), but anybody that can drive a car, can select up, down, turn left, turn right, go forward, go backwards. This thing could be done so that all "flying cars" would have a data link to other "flying cars" nearby. The computer could automatically avoid collisions without the need of centralized air traffic control at all. Actually air traffic control is a system that can not scale to the level of cars are used on the roads, no matter what. The only way to manage the huge amount of traffic is to not have centralized control at all, but the control would need to be between the aircraft and it would need to be automatic data link, not this antiquated AM radio we are using to call ATC. I think it would be reasonable to make the system such that there could be as many flying cars in the air than there are cars on the ground now. Traffic congestions could be easily avoided because there is lots of space in the vertical plane in the air (when we forget about airspace altitudes and minimum altitudes etc.).

The four rotor configuration would also solve the problem of placing ballistic parachute. It could be directly at the CG and it could be even made automatic, if something fails, parachute would be pulled right away.

So what would be needed:
- lightweight electric motors with high power (already possible with today's technology)
- fly by wire system (already possible with today's technology)
- data link to other aircraft (would be already possible with today's technology)
- combustion engine to charge batteries (already possible with today's technology)
- high capacity light weight batteries (this might require next generation batteries to have good enough usefulness)

For these to be good for mass market, the following points must be considered:
- it must not require pilot's license
- it must not require medical of any kind
- it must not be over-regulated, otherwise it will never gain any popularity
- it needs to be very much automatic and very easy
- there must not be super-restrictive regulation where one can land and take off, the usefulness of this concept depends on possibility take off and land from and to everywhere, it would make no sense to take off from airport and to land to airport
- it would not replace airplane, instead one could fly with this kind of machine to airport to get far away with the airplane, I don't see that this kind of design could be made ultra long range and super fast.
- it is unavoidable that this design actually requires more space still than a car, quite large diameter props needs to be used for efficiency. However, each of them would be more reasonable size compared to one helicopter rotor and less expensive to manufacture. Also four rotors provide more thrust and lower disc loading than a single rotor.

Then how these could be manufactured?
- For mass market I think they should be pressed with 3d molds from aluminium with monococue type construction like cars are made of steel. This should be feasible with today's technology because Piaggio P-180 Avanti is manufactured from this type of aluminium construction.
- There could be no rivets and there could be no hand layup in anywhere in the structure to make the price down
- The price of high capacity batteries must drop to get the price down
- the electric motors are inexpensive to manufacture in great volumes
- prototype could be composite construction

So I don't believe in Möller's design as such (combustion engines driving ducted fans), but this slightly different version (with helicopter like but shrouded rotors) could possibly be feasible. And these could be made aesthetically to look very stylish unlike helicopters, and they could have bigger mass market appeal also because of that.

Hybrid aircraft ideas, continued from the previous article

The previous article received lots of very good comments, and since my reply to one comment became too long, I decided to post a new article about it.

One reader proposed either push-pull hybrid where one engine would be diesel and the other would be electric motor. There was another possibility also considered, with coaxial propellers the same thing. This is a valid point and would work. There are some challenges on it therefore here is some cons I considered and hereby listed for this setup:

I may post this as a separate article also because otherwise it possibly does not get read by that many:

This is reply to a commenter for the earlier article:
There is a little incompatibility here that I don't see how to overcome:
- the diesel engine operates at medium rpm which requires reduction drive
- the electric motor can designed to be direct drive and low rpm without need for reduction unit

Having series hybrid there is weight penalty of two brushless DC motors and the engine and the battery, but no other systems. The engine runs the brushless DC motor without reduction gear and the motor that is used as generator can be designed to operate at the rpm the engine operates. The other motor which drives the prop can be made to operate at low rpm.
-> this sytem has NO:
- weight penalty of reduction gear unit
- reliability penalty of reduction gear unit
- need for propeller clutch and the associated reliability penalty and weight penalty
- need for drive shaft to achieve aerodynamic cowling shape

You already listed the most of the pros for the diesel direct drive. I list the cons:
The diesel direct drive cons:
- would not work without clutch, the power pulses would make the prop come off in flight if it did not fail on ground testing already
- does not get necessary power to weight ratio from the engine because of the need to run it at low rpm because of the prop requires low rpm
- weight penalty of the additional gear reduction unit
- reliability penalty of the additional gear reduction unit
- weight penalty of the clutch
- reliability penalty of the clutch (in Thielert engines they have failed now and then, especially in the original design, the latest engine models might have addressed this issue but I am not sure)
- added complexity for the conversion, this is a major consideration in homebuilt experimental since added complexity can add lots of cost in terms of labor if it goes very much beyond "I can do that myself".
- aerodynamic cowling shape may require drive shaft, and reliable drive shaft has been proven to be hard to design and manufacture such way that it would be 100% reliable
- the diesel engine is harder for the prop than a electric motor because of power pulses (even with clutch) and more expensive propeller is needed than would be needed with the electric motor alone.

There is however a case what has not been talked about for your case:
- planetary gear system for driving the electric motor and the diesel engine at the same time - Toyota Prius hybrid synergy drive thing. That is about bullet proof and single point of failure will not stop the prop, one motor is enough to continue driving the prop.
- This of course has associated weight penalty. On Toyota Prius it does not matter, but on aircraft it does matter.

Case for push-pull:
- To avoid drive shaft, the diesel engine would need to be the front engine.
- case for achieving any kind of laminar flow to the fuselage would be pretty much lost
- inefficiency problems on the rear prop because of the front prop. I have not quantified this on the other hand, apparently nobody is able to answer how much is the penalty, it is not even exact in literature.