Bridgette Meinhold

NASA Unveils All-Electric Personal Flight Vehicle

by , 01/20/10
filed under: Green Transportation

sustainable design, green design, personal flight vehicle, nasa, vtol, puffin, electric vehicle, airplane, sustainable transportation

NASA is currently working on a personal aircraft that will put jet packs to shame. The Puffin is an all-electric one-man aircraft 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, people will be trading in their iPhone for a chance to see one of these things in action. Originally designed for covert military insertions because it is quieter and has a lower heat signature than combustion engines, the Puffin could beat out traditional aircraft in terms of environmental impact as well.

sustainable design, green design, personal flight vehicle, nasa, vtol, puffin, electric vehicle, airplane, sustainable transportation

When on the ground, NASA’s vertical take off and landing (VTOL) aircraft stands 3.7 meters high on 4 extendable legs, which also serve as landing gear. To take off, the two propeller rotors start spinning and raise it off the ground, then it leans forward and takes off horizontally. The pilot lies prone inside the cockpit while in flight. Cruising speed is around 240 km per hour and top speed is 480, all powered with lithium phosphate batteries that amazingly provide only 60 hp for propulsion.

The NASA engineers named it the Puffin because it resembles the awkward bird, but there’s nothing awkward about it when it flies in the video below. Thanks to its all-electric motor, the aircraft has zero emissions while in flight, making it environmentally friendly than combustion engines. Additionally, the Puffin would 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 uninhibited by thin air . The only major drawback right now is the battery capacity, which would only allow the Puffin to fly 80 km per charge. The researchers expect that as battery technology improves so will the range.

+ NASA

Via Scientific American

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9 Comments

  1. james 65 February 22, 2012 at 2:56 pm

    i like that it it can take to more batteries

  2. eherold January 24, 2010 at 11:34 am

    stalamantes: first of all, thank you for your detailed and informative comments. i believe that the comments/reactions/threads are sometimes more important than the story itself! it’s easy to skim an article and forward it along via facebook, digg, twitter, etc….and yes, it helps spread the word….but more important (imho) are the discussions and interactions spawned by our reactions.

    that being said….

    a) i know that electric CAN be ‘green.’ i was simply trying to point out that just because the motor is electric doesn’t mean it’s an environmentally friendly idea.

    b) batteries. again, i know that technology is improving all of the time. but to quote the article “The only major drawback right now is the battery capacity, which would only allow the Puffin to fly 80 km per charge.” this is the best that NASA engineers can do with given technology (and i would like to hope that they have access to the best there is to offer).

    c) i know enough people that can’t work their cell.phones that i don’t think more technology in the cockpit is the answer. yes, advanced instruments would surely make piloting easier, but the shortcuts in training would only be replaced with more expensive machines. personally, i place more faith in those ‘raw piloting skills’ than i do in some advanced mechanical system that is just as subject to failure. instead of spending countless hours and thousands of dollars on flight lessons (i have no idea of the costs involved, i am just guessing blindly here), one would simply have to walk into the nearest launch.pad, swipe their credit card (for a few grand) and jet off at 240kph

    d) which brings me to another interesting point. “The only major drawback right now is the battery capacity, which would only allow the Puffin to fly 80 km per charge.” so you can fly at 240kph, but only for 20min.

    e) obviously i am not against technology. here i sit on my wi.fi equipped netbook while browsing a blog. it is the frivolousness of much so.called ‘progress’ that aggravates me. granted, maybe the ideas developed here will go on to contribute to other projects. right now, however, we do not need more ‘personal transport options.’ in a time of resource shortage, we need to make sure that we are working towards a common good and not just following some ‘flight of fancy.’

  3. stalamantes January 23, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    eherold: Of course electric can certainly mean green. I agree that we currently derive the overwhelming majority of our electricity from fossil fuels, but we are at the same time deriving more and more from other clean sources (solar, wind.) There is another project in the works to develop and fly a completely solar-powered airplane around the world. You should be able to find many articles on the Solar Impulse, but here is just one: http://greenupgrader.com/6195/around-world-solar-airplane/. In regards to battery storage capabilities, we now have high capacity batteries that are currently being used in many solar powered homes. There is a company in southern Califoria that has developed light-weight, high-capacity, cold, portable, and stationary battery packs. Because they do not generate any heat (they remain cold to the touch), they are suitable for small, cramped, non-ventilated spaces, such as an airplane fuselage.

    This type of vehicle would likely contain much more technology than an ultra-light, thereby lowering the entry barrier for a would-be pilot, unlike the esentially manually flown trainers of today. I first learned to fly in a Cessna 152, a two-place trainer that had nothing except a VOR and a COMM radio, in terms of technology. The more we rely on raw piloting skills, the higher the barrier to entry for the non-pilot.

    From the demo video, it seems this vehicle would act as a VTOL aircraft, so one wouldn’t need even the short runway space required of an ultra-light. Also, it’s speed may be much higher than what an ultra-light could achieve. Its compact design might ultimately be more stable in flight as well. And the fact that the occupant would be enclosed in a cabin would likely be more attractive to potential travelers. Personally, it wouldn’t bother me to be outdoors flying an ultralight, but I can understand if others may not see it the same way as I do.

    I’m sorry you see the development of this type of technoogy as only a high-tech gadget. As a matter of history, many things seemed useless when first developed, only to prove themselves worthwhile, dependable, and incredibly useful, i.e., the airplane, to name just one.

  4. eherold January 22, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    why does this seem like it should be a story in the Onion instead of in Scientific American?

    stalamantes: electric does not = green. most of our electricity comes from fossil fuels or other planet.abusing means (damns, nuclear). nothing is said about energy generation….only the shortcomings already presented in battery storage capabilities. how would this high.tech gadget make flying any more accessible to the ‘average jane’ than ultralights already have?

    as a national agency, i don’t think that NASA should be spending money on ‘personal flight vehicles.’ what we need are better mass transit options here on Earth. obviously, this isn’t NASA’s field, so how about working on a spacebus to the moon instead?

  5. GatoDelSol January 22, 2010 at 8:06 am

    Two things: I would hate to be flying around the Houston area and encounter low-flying geese in this bird because there appears to be not a lot in the way of head safety with that bubble. Second, I would think a craft like this would need to have a parachute for the entire vehicle in case of a battery failure, heart attack, or the afore-mentioned bird strike. Such a safety device could only be engaged at speeds below xx MPH to ensure full deployment. Cool concept but it’ll prolly be too pricey for the average Joe.

  6. stalamantes January 21, 2010 at 9:18 am

    Congrats to NASA for having the courage to think beyond the lines of tradition. I am a private pilot myself; I can remember a time when most people could not conceive of the average person having an interest, yet alone the capability, to fly a small aircraft, but look at the breadth of the General Aviation industry around the world today. Light aircraft (Cessna, Beechcraft, Piper, etc.) are in use in a wide variety of industries, as well as in personal transport and corporate transport. And the fact that the design is electric shows that they are well aware of the limitations of fossil fuel as we peer into our future. Technology innovations as well as traffic control and flight planning & control software means that even the “average person” could learn to pilot a craft such as this in a safe manner. It is visions like these that push us beyond what we think others can achieve. If we don’t lead with our ideas, someone else inevitably will.

  7. markclayson January 21, 2010 at 8:03 am

    I can’t see it happening myself.

  8. MrStoneJones January 20, 2010 at 11:32 am

    I wish I got paid to dream such a death wish. Is anyone hiring?

  9. Rahmanc January 20, 2010 at 11:04 am

    NASA must be smoking some serious weed if they think that the average person will be able to tolerate laying on their stomach while performing aerial maneuvers.

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