Aviation Archive

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Where's My Flying Car?

Since I'm the webmaster at the company I work for, and my e-mail's about the only contact info on there short of writing us a letter, I have to handle a lot of feedback. One of the questions I often get asked is why we don't pursue a roadable version. (Yes, "roadable" is a word. Merriam Webster may not know what it means, but Wikipedia does, and Google certainly returns enough hits for it.) Indeed, it is possible to make an autogyro that you can drive on the road - consider the Pitcarin AC-35 of the past, Larry Neal's Super Sky Cycle that's currently available, or the PAL-V, that's the latest buzz, but hasn't gotten off the ground yet.

While a flying car has long been a dream that we've all wanted, there really are some practical reasons that make it very difficult. For one thing, you have to get power to the wheels, and ideally, disengage the propeller to make ground operations safer. While it's not a huge technical challenge to do this - it's just a gearbox, driveshafts, and clutches - it certainly does add weight.

For another, cars need to have much more collision protection. Aircraft designers don't worry about this because there's not much to hit in the air, but automobiles are constantly in danger of being hit by or running into something. They need the bumpers and other protection that they have. Plus, since they're more apt to smaller "collisions," like shopping carts in the parking lot, they need thicker skins to handle it (plus, a small dent to the leading edge of a rotor is a big deal - it would have to be fixed before you could go fly again, as opposed to a ding in your door, where you cuss that it happened, but just hop in and drive off). Once again, all this adds weight to the vehicle.

Thirdly, since air really isn't very dense, you need something pretty big to act on it to get an aircraft into the air - rotors or wings. You don't want something that big on an automobile sticking out into the other lanes of traffic, so you need some way to stow it, and preferrably a way that keeps it attached to the vehicle, since history has shown that people don't want to have a roadable car where they leave the tail and wings at the airport and drive a detachable car away from there (such as the Taylor Aerocar). To me, a folding rotor seems like the best option to accomplish this, but it's still a good bit heavier than a regular, non-folding rotor. Plus, you'd like to have something that stows pretty quickly and easily - have you ever noticed how many Jeep CJ owners only fold their tops up or down every month or so, even though it only takes about 10 minutes to do?

I hope you're seeing a trend here - weight. Weight is much more of a premium in an aircraft than in a car - you rarely see automobile drivers adding up the weight of passengers, fuel, and any cargo before each trip to make sure they're not over gross weight. Plus, have you ever noticed how chintzy everything seems on an airliner - it's not because the airlines are cheap; it's to keep everything light. For all the issues I discussed above, you can try your best to engineer everything as light as possible, but you can't go too far or you'll be left with a fragile vehicle. Yes, it's possible to make a roadable aircraft, but the compromises necessary add a fair amount of weight, reducing the useful load you can carry. For some people, this reduced useful load would be offset by the greater mobility, but for many applications, it's not worth it.

So, it's this weight issue that I think is the primary reason flying cars never caught on. There are a few other, smaller issues, that I plan to discuss in an upcoming blog entry, "When Will There Be an Aircraft in Every Garage?"

Monday, May 21, 2007

FAA Funding Debate

I'm a private pilot. I haven't been very active over the past few years, but I still like to follow the goings on, because I plan to become active again in the future. The latest brouhaha is a proposed plan to change where Air Traffic Control (ATC) gets its funding from, basically reducing what the airlines pay and making general aviation (GA) pilots foot more of the bill. Obviously, as a GA pilot, I don't like it. Flying's expensive enough as it is (the reason I haven't been very active for the past several years), and when I do fly, I hardly ever use ATC. I fly mostly in uncontrolled airspace under Visual Flight Rules (VFR). I still talk to other pilots over the radio, but ATC doesn't have anything to do with it. (For you non-pilots, it's like driving your car. You use turn signals and what not to communicate with other drivers, but there's no central authority organizing where and when you can go.) The only time ATC really does anything for me is when I'm a passenger on an airliner, and airline tickets are already taxed to cover that. So why should I have to pay more taxes than the average citizen for a service that I don't use any more than they do? You can find a lot more information on AOPA's page

Anyway, on the Ercoupe Yahoo Group I'm a member of, one of the other members, Ed Burkhead, recently made a very good post about this issue. I've copied his message below.

Any of these thoughts that get refuted buy you gals and guys won't be included in the letter I'll send my senators shortly. My preliminary thoughts on user fees are these:

1. I pretty much never use the air traffic control system except:

a. I'm affected (penalized) by it because it keeps me out of areas in greatest use by airliners (even though their use may be just a few planes a day.

b. When I do use the medium-airliner-use airports, my use of the air traffic control system is mostly because it's imposed by the government on behalf of the airliners. It's not a "benefit" for me, it's an imposition.

2. If they want to impose a use tax on people who *use* the air traffic control system, let them charge the same per-occupied-seat tax on us as they do on the airliners.

a. It may, truly, cost as much for air traffic control to handle a Piper Cub at PIA as a 747 but the cost is there for the benefit of the 747, not the Piper Cub.

b. Thus, charging per person is more equitable than charging per plane.

3. We already pay our fees through existing taxes.

a. We pay our share through fuel taxes.

b. Moreover, we pay our fair share of the airliner-protection-system through general fund taxes - as we should. The benefits of airliner flights accrue to all of us through the economic benefits of moving people and goods.

c. To disproportionately charge the people who fly on private and business aircraft for the airliner-protection-system is unfair. We all benefit equally per person from the safety of the airliners.

d. It may be fair to charge a moderate per-person fee (ticket-tax) for aircraft using the IFR system, but I think it's better to keep the current funding system.

4. As we can see from the example of Europe, imposing user fees on non-mass-transport aviation is a powerful means of killing it.

5. A strong small and general aviation industry and environment is of value to all the population, witness the developments and science developed from Weick's W-1 as well as many other aircraft developed for the personal market.

Ed Burkhead

http://edburkhead.com

Friday, May 11, 2007

New CarterGyro Video

Well, a fan of the company I work for (Mat Recardo is the fan, Carter Aviation Technologies is the company), just put together a highlight video of our small single place demonstrator and posted it online. I think he did a pretty kick-ass job (but of course, he had a good aircraft to show off). Anyway, here's the YouTube video.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

CarterGyro Jump Takeoff Videos

CarterGyroJust a small entry for today, and I'm a few months late in getting to it, but I thought people might still find it interesting. I work for Carter Aviation Technologies, an aviation research and development company. One of our recent projects was heavily modifying an ultralight autogyro to retrofit it with some of our technologies, that we call the CarterGyro Demonstrator Trainer. To explain what we've done and how this benefits the aircraft, I'll just go ahead and quote our website.

To enable jump takeoffs, the aircraft has been modified with the Carter propeller & the two-setting Carter prop pitch control mechanism, the Carter designed mechanical pre-rotator, and the Carter rotor with automatic mechanical pitch control. For improved safety on landing, the aircraft now has the Carter smart strut on a Carter designed main gear, and a slightly modified commercially available nose gear with more stroke and a larger tire than the original nose gear.

In the current configuration, the CGD/T will fly straight and level as slow as around 20 mph airspeed, can perform zero-roll landings, and can jump over 150 feet straight into the air.

Anyway, what's so cool that I wanted to link to were the videos on the website. Follow the link above to watch them. They're pretty damn cool, and show just what an autogyro is capable of performance-wise. Keep in mind that this is an autogyro, not a helicopter. The rotor is only directly driven by the engine while on the ground when the tires can take care of the torque, and is disengaged before the aircraft lifts off the ground - you don't need any anti-torque devices like tail rotors that way. The aircraft can jump about 150' straight up just from that energy stored in the rotor.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Slowed Rotor/Compound Technology- Why Isn't There More Research?

Carter Aviation Technologies has successfully demonstrated stable, slowed rotor flight. The CarterCopter "achieved a Mu of 1 at a flight speed of 170 mph and a rotor rpm of 107. The flight was stable and extremely smooth, and the pilots reported there were no vibrational indicators that they were even in a rotary-wing aircraft." (CarterCopter Technology Demonstrator Flight Test Data and Analysis). Data from the flight indicates that the slowed-rotor/compound concept does offer the potential for efficient, high-speed flight, in an aircraft capable of performing vertical flight like a helicopter. Yet there has been little funding into research on this concept, despite the huge promise that it shows.

Continue reading "Slowed Rotor/Compound Technology- Why Isn't There More Research?" »

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