NASA just unveiled its Puffin aircraft design, showing just how completely personal, electrically propelled flight could change the ways we live and get around.
The engineers at NASA have combined every one of our geeky transportation dreams into a single little vehicle called the Puffin. It takes off like a helicopter and flies like a plane. It can cruise at 140 mph and, with a boost mode, hit about twice that. Oh — and it’s electric.
The Puffin is something of a personal V-22 Osprey, complete with vertical-takeoff and landing capability (but minus the squad of Marines). But rather than tilting the rotors forward for horizontal flight, the whole craft — cockpit and all — pitches forward, meaning the pilot flies from a prone position. During takeoff and landing the tail splits into four legs that serve as landing gear, and flaps on the wings deploy to keep the aircraft stable as it lifts and descends.
On the ground, the Puffin is designed to stand on its tail, which splits into four legs to help serve as landing gear. As a pilot prepares to take off, flaps on the wings would tilt to deflect air from the 2.3-meter-wide propeller rotors upward, keeping the plane on the ground until it was ready to fly and preventing errant gusts from tipping it over. The Puffin would rise, hover and then lean over to fly horizontally, with the pilot lying prone as if in a glider. When landing, the extending spring legs would support the 3.7-meter-long, 4.1-meter-wingspan craft, which is designed with carbon-fiber composites to weigh in at 135 kilograms, not including 45 kilograms of rechargeable lithium phosphate batteries.
Once the Puffin transitions to horizontal flight, the pilot can cruise at more than 140 miles per hour. Hit the boost mode and this bird will do nearly 300 mph. The projected range is 50 miles on a charge. Yeah, that’s not much, but using electricity means the Puffin’s powerplant won’t be limited by air density. NASA says it should be able to climb under full power to around 30,000 feet before the battery pack would be depleted enough to require coming back down.
Aside from the military applications (super-stealthy troop insertions with very low thermal signatures?) the quiet, uncomplicated, low-powered electric lift — just 60 horsepower gets pilot and craft airborne — shows how a world in which everyday folks get around modern cities via personal aircraft may not be as sci-fi as was once thought.
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Filed Under: Technology & Science