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NASA Puffin personal electric aircraft concept

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April 13, 2010

The Puffin in full flight ... electric motors deliver a top speed of around 150mph and a r...

The Puffin in full flight ... electric motors deliver a top speed of around 150mph and a range of 50 miles - plenty for that daily journey to work and back! (Image: NASA)

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Be honest. Who hasn’t dreamed about flying in their own personal aircraft? NASA aerospace engineer Mark Moore moved his dreams one step closer to reality by devising this concept – the Puffin personal air vehicle. It’s a vertical take-off and landing tail-sitter that has generated quite a lot of interest from those inside and outside of NASA. It’s definitely a weird-looking craft, with a tail that splits into four "legs" that serve as landing gear. It lifts off like a helicopter, hovers, and then leans forward to fly horizontally with the pilot lying down like in a hang-glider.

The Puffin, if ever built, would be an electric-powered, 12-ft (3.7m) long, 14.5-ft (4.4m) wingspan personal air vehicle. It evolved as part of Moore’s coursework for his doctoral degree. NASA then paid for much of the research to devise how the Puffin could actually fly. Moore is a nationally recognized expert on personal air vehicles and other small aircraft systems.

The proposed aircraft would be small and very lightweight - about 300lbs (136kg) empty weight, plus another 100lbs (45kg) of battery and 200lbs (91kg) for the pilot or payload. To get off the ground, the Puffin would be propelled by 60hp of electric motors, designed to still be able to produce the required power to hover even if any two of the powertrain components on either side failed.

To take in the views on offer (or complete a mission), the Puffin would have a top speed of 150mph (241kph), but could cruise more efficiently at lower speeds. Current battery technology dictates the range would be around 50 miles (80km) before the Puffin would be looking for a safe place to land.

Why is it called Puffin? "If you've ever seen a puffin on the ground, it looks very awkward, with wings too small to fly, and that's exactly what our vehicle looks like," Moore told Scientific American.

Moore adds that the puffin is known as an environmentally-friendly bird, because it hides its poop, and the vehicle is environmentally-friendly because it essentially has no emissions. Also, puffins tend to live in solitude and this is a one-person vehicle.

The National Institute of Aerospace hopes to fly a remote control one-third size model to test whether Moore’s academic studies are right, and in particular, if the Puffin can move from hover mode to forward flight.

21 Comments

Dude , what happens should you hit some geese????

Jorge L Ayala
14th April, 2010 @ 06:46 am PDT

Cool! Reports about this machine turned up on avweb.com late last year. There is a cool animation of it either there or on youtube. I like it because it is a better version of the kind of minimalist, low impact personal transports that I often try to sketch. I particularly like the fact that it appears to be a useful device despite relying on our current tech which is limited by battery and motor weight/capacity/output.

I suspect that the same tech is just about right to produce a roughly 500 pound/250kg two seat aircraft that sacrifices the (admittedly) neat vertical take off and landing capability in return for 2 to 5 times the range. I think that something with a 100 metre/300ft runway requirement, that is whisper quiet and able to get you 150 miles in an hour for next to nothing would be a real winner. Now that some serious effort is being put into battery and motor tech, we might see some real developments in this direction.

I absolutely applaud NASA for allowing people to do this kind of work - I look to them to stimulate development and to maybe develop some wild and crazy concepts in order to further the art. Very cool.

Hogey74
14th April, 2010 @ 07:47 am PDT

I thought it was an "april fool" when I first read it in "Science & Vie" magazine.

Yet, I definitely want that craft!!!

Ariel Dahan
14th April, 2010 @ 09:46 am PDT

I like the electric motor concept but think that 50 miles is way too short a range for a vehicle of this sort. What is the hovering time and how long does the pilot have to set-down in relation to remaining battery power? Sounds like about 50 minutes of battery time but probably way less when hovering....unless these safeguards are built in to the specs.

Muraculous
14th April, 2010 @ 09:55 am PDT

C'mon, people. That design has so many flaws it's not even funny. I'll give you two: survivability in a crash-landing in the face-forward/face down position, and the strain of flying for any length of time with your head tilted backwards so you can look straight ahead. Who'd even want to get into something shaped like a torpedo? Wait! I'll give you a third for free! Your situational awareness is non-existent, as you can't see around you in a horizontal plane to look for obstacles such as other aircraft.

Rolf Hawkins
14th April, 2010 @ 04:32 pm PDT

Marry the fuselage with the Acabion motorcycle and fold the top wing like the MV-22 osprey for road travel. Since gas turbines are getting better at acceleration, FUEL VARIETY will allow high-speed transit and low cost.

Facebook User
14th April, 2010 @ 06:17 pm PDT

I believe a gyrocopter would serve the same mission requirements at a fraction of the cost and complexity, with greater economy and safety. If the weight of the craft is under 253 lbs, it would fall in the ultralight category and wouldn't require a pilot's license in the US.

Even simpler would be a backpack powered parachute.

William H Lanteigne
14th April, 2010 @ 09:09 pm PDT

After a few moment's thought, I remembered the DA-11, designed by Leeon (yes, with 2 "e's") Davis; I believe the plans are still available?

118 mph on a B&S Vanguard 18hp V-twin.

Probably could build the entire thing cheaper than buying the Puffin battery pack.

No, it doesn't hover.

William H Lanteigne
14th April, 2010 @ 09:31 pm PDT

I like the concept but the pilots position looks very uncomfortable and possibly dangerous. I agree with William about the creating an electric gyrocopter.

Edgar Walkowsky
15th April, 2010 @ 07:28 am PDT

"... it essentially has no emissions?" I'm willing to guess 60hp worth of electric motors don't run for 20 minutes (the approximate maximum flight time) without a charge in the batteries. It might be fair to say "no _local_ emissions" but some sort of power plant would almost certainly be emitting pollutants somewhere before this toy takes off.

That's not to say it's not a very cool concept!

gafisher
15th April, 2010 @ 08:20 am PDT

Rolf, you're being silly. Survivability is better than a motorcycle; at least you have a shell around you to protect you from scrapes. Are you likely to die in a head-on crash? Yep, and so would you in an airplane like this. And yet people still ride motorcycles.

Head tilted back posture? Bicyclists do it for days on end.

Why do you blame torpedos just because they're shaped like airplane fuselages?

You don't need situational awareness because gps nav warns you about everything else in the sky.

Mellow out, Rolf.

Russ Nelson
15th April, 2010 @ 08:28 am PDT

@ Rolf - it is somewhat impractical but ...

1. It would have one or more balistic parachutes and/or airbag type cushions for forced landings etc and I would think they would not be rigged for head first landings.

2. I cycle on a road bike in a kind of similar position and after a few weeks of sore muscles on the back of your neck your body gets used to it. Hang gliders do it too.

3. Visibility would need to be fixed I agree but the design could be modified I reckon.

I would be more in favour of a sit-down machine in which you could read the paper or use a computer while flying on auto pilot.

Hogey74
15th April, 2010 @ 09:05 am PDT

love network fly-cars

Facebook User
15th April, 2010 @ 10:37 pm PDT

I wonder who will do the test flights. Like with that 2 propellor plane the US lately developed with VTOL and hoover.

Pl0pie
6th May, 2010 @ 06:54 am PDT

Also why not use the "magewing" concept... so that the whole plane is a wing.

Pl0pie
6th May, 2010 @ 06:56 am PDT

@Russ Nelson

Aircraft.

Height.

Epic Fail.

Very aerodynamic high speed.

Downwards pointing.

Face DOWN, HEAD first = megga face plant.

Survivability = None.

Mr Stiffy
16th May, 2010 @ 07:20 pm PDT

Interesting but are you really going to put the average driver in charge of one of those? I bet your life that the control systems won't be 100% reliable. Falling off a motorcycle gives you a few feet to the ground. Losing control of one of these at 30 feet would almost certainly kill you.

Chris Hann
19th May, 2010 @ 02:54 pm PDT

Another contender is the all-metal STOLCH 701 homebuilt aircraft. Fits in the US "light sport" aircraft category, can be built by unskilled labor. STOL aircraft work fine in urban areas, guzzle less fuel and have greater range than VTOL craft.

William H Lanteigne
22nd May, 2010 @ 11:45 pm PDT

All these aircraft are very nice ideas. But these ideas leave out the Human factor most every time. These devices will have a limited market unless some infallible method of automatic flight is created that is cost effective. The general population is too stupid to have something like this in their direct control. In addition to the standard driving through the front door of the fast food restaurant because they don't know the difference between the brake and the accelerator. We will have the high speed morons who now inhabit the streets and highways leaping into the sky with multiple crashing and banging and attendant piles of said aircraft and bits of passengers dropping into backyards like pigeon droppings onto marble statues. Ground type transportation is much safer for a population that believes they own the space directly in front of them and will drive right over you to prove it.

monkeybump
5th April, 2011 @ 03:45 pm PDT

Lighter, quiet and without the guillotine propellers, I would want one

Gargamoth
31st July, 2011 @ 11:59 am PDT

The idea is not bad at all but I think they will need some time before making it possible. I am looking forward for the day when they will release the first personal aircraft and who knows, I might even get one for myself if the price is acceptable.

Shukhrat Zaripov
3rd March, 2012 @ 08:16 pm PST
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