Feeds

Added green burden could ground flying cars for good

Get off my flying car, hippies!

Build a business case: developing custom apps

Much was made of the new electric glider option from Pipistrel - the company which won the last PAV challenge - for instance, described by CNET in visionary terms:

The first batch of two-seater aircraft to fly on electricity rather than fossil fuels could reach more than a dozen buyers by year's end... that's a step closer to a gridlock-free future when relatively ordinary folks will hop to work in small, carbon-neutral planes... [the] Taurus Electro can climb to 6,000 feet after taking off on a 30-kilowatt motor. Recharging the glider's lithium-polymer battery is meant to take about as long as powering a cell phone. Depending upon the weather and skills of the pilot, the glider can travel 1,000 miles in a day.

Whoa there. The Taurus Electro is indeed an impressive piece of kit, and hats are deservedly off to its Czech developers. But it's a glider. The battery is flat after the 6,000 foot climb - you might get 1,000 miles after that by chasing thermals, but this is not a viable way of getting to a destination - you'll be landing essentially at random, the way gliders tend to do. The Taurus isn't even vaguely aimed towards a flying car future - though it is green. Assuming you have access to some green electricity, anyway.

Much has also been made lately of Boeing's long-delayed but ultimately successful effort to prove that a motor-glider airframe can fly straight and level with one person aboard - though not climb - driven by hydrogen fuel cells alone.

It's perfectly true, of course, that adding a battery to the fuel cell can give you climb power, much as the battery or ultracapacitor in a fuel-cell car allows it to get up hills and overtake. The San Francisco conference was full of people planning electric/hybrid planes and gliders of one kind or another. CNET even tell us that there might soon be "a light aircraft that would fly on a battery at 15 kilowatts per hour" - though we'd hazard a guess that the manufacturer didn't actually say that.

The trouble with this is that all you get is a somewhat worsened motor glider. This kind of gear offers no serious potential to be roadworthy, and very little chance of powering or perhaps even lifting the super-autopilot systems and actuators that a flying car would need. Most of these planned aircraft would be doing well just to get into the air and stay there.

Ultimately the engineering realities of practical aircraft are well understood. Flying cars are difficult enough to achieve using nice energy-dense fossil fuel powerplants - indeed the problems are sufficient to have kept the idea totally marginal to date, though we continue to wish we had enough money to own a Terrafugia Transition. But a green flying car, with its power-to-weight ratio slashed - that's not just marginal, that's outright silly.

Let the road car industry work on green tech for goodness' sake, people. They're the ones who aren't bound hand and foot by aviation's strict safety standards; they're the ones who have a comparatively easy technical feat to achieve, with the issue of weight so much less pressing. Frankly, the motor industry are the ones - compared to aircraft in general, let alone general aviation - causing the pollution and carbon emissions, the ones wasting expensive, imported crude oil as though it was going out of fashion.

Let's not hang another millstone round the flying car's neck before it's even born. Let's get it working first, or at least get the roadable light aircraft working first - and make it green later, when doing so would actually matter. ®

Bootnote

Caveat: As the CAFE people point out, there's always the chance of something surprising out of left field. Such as miracle ultracapacitors, able to store 100 times more power than batteries of the same weight - and deliver it as fast as you like. As it might be, when spinning electric ducted fans at maximum thrust for a quiet, vertical driveway takeoff before moving to a less power-hungry forward flight mode... it's a lovely dream, anyway. We wouldn't mention it, but Lockheed seems to be getting caught up in the excitement to some degree.

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

More from The Register

next story
BEST BATTERY EVER: All lithium, all the time, plus a dash of carbon nano-stuff
We have found the Holy Grail (of batteries) - boffins
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
Asteroid's SHOCK DINO MURDER SPREE just bad luck - boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
Jurassic squawk: Dinos were Earth's early FEATHERED friends
Boffins research: Ancient dinos may all have had 'potential' fluff
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.