A better and faster path to efficient personal flight is emerging now. UAV guidance can fly and land planes without human pilots. There are new two seat electric planes emerging with 100+ mph speed and 438 mpg equivalent efficiency. This could be the safer and more efficient replacement system for long commutes, that is faster and better than robotic electric cars. This site has previously discussed transforming transportation with robotically driven electric cars in cities. Robotic UAV piloting would be added to create a scalable, environmentally friendly transportation system. The planes and the passengers could have parachutes or advanced airbag systems in case of failures. The lower speed of 100 mph would be comparable to car safety challenges. The glider like characteristics would make safety issues far easier to deal with as well.
The World's cheapest autopilot is about $110 add a FMA Co-Pilot for stabilization, a Hobbico SuperStar plane, some servos, and a 6-Channel radio system, and you have all the parts for a $440 unmanned aerial vehicle.
Security is not that much of issue for light robotic electric planes
The planes cannot carry much weight. If one were to load them with explosives then one would get similar effect with several large, cheaper robotic model planes.
Large RC model planes as big or bigger than as a person. Remote control model planes with 50kg of payload are not uncommon.
RC model plane with 21 foot wingspan
Security is not radically reduced and not changed much from carbombs.
The light gliders could have assisted short takeoff launching systems, which would be easy because they are so light.
The Pipestrel electric plane can takeoff with less than 100 meters of runway. An enhanced launching system could reduce the takeoff distance to 50 meters or less. The electric planes have to reach less than 100mpg to takeoff.
UAVs prove that robotic flight can be safe.
Longer range in Future
Improved electrical power sources will eventually allow longer range and higher speeds for electric planes, which would eliminate the need for more expensive high speed trains and transform long range aviation. High speed rail takes many years and billions of dollars to build.
Popular Science discusses a contest to make 100 mpg personal airplanes.
Greg Cole is building a two-seat electric plane called the Goshawk that he estimates will travel at an average speed of 102 mph and get the equivalent of 438 mpg.
The biggest obstacle is packing enough on board. Cole’s Goshawk can hold only enough lithium-ion batteries for a one-hour flight. This is still 100 mile range which is enough for a fast commute, especially with a battery swap/recharge upon landing.
Greg Coles company is Windward Performance, which makes the $41,000 Sparrowhawk sailplane.
The Goshawk was shown at the 2008 electric airplane symposium. the Goshawk would cruise at 115 knots on 21 horsepower.
And later in 2008, Slovenian plane-maker Pipistrel will begin selling its Taurus Electro, a glider that uses an electric motor on takeoff. “Electric propulsion is where it’s at,” Moore says. The clearest benefit is efficiency. Whereas piston engines extract about 20 percent of the energy in gas, electric motors use at least 90 percent of the power stored in batteries.
The Pipestrel battery-powered, self-launching motorglider would allow climbing to 6000 feet in a side-by-side seating, two-place aircraft on only 70 cents worth of electricity, soaring at a 40:1 glide ratio, and then recharging in less than 2 hours.
The Pipestrel motorglider would be powered by the AK30K016 electric motor, which weighs 14 kg, generates 30kw, 1800 RPM, 200Nm at 95% efficiency.
The Pipestrel motorized glider has 46kg of lithium batteries that store 6kwh of power.
Second engine is even lighter and made for continuous operation.
Plenty of Space in the system for all commuters
Consider the example of Toronto, which has 16 lanes for some highway sections (including feeder highways)
The area and density of Toronto:
City 630 km² (243.2 sq mi)
Density 3,972/km² (10,287.4/sq mi)
So for each cubic kilometer if everyone had a flying electric plane and had them all
flying at the same time. Assuming even one per child.
40 levels (25 meters between elevations, 11 story building in between each level)
100 planes on each square kilometer level. 10 rows of 10 planes. 100 meters between each plane.
A football field in between planes.
Only one cubic kilometer layer. Nothing flying below 1000 feet (except when landing or taking off) or above 6000 feet. Higher levels for larger planes.
Plenty of volume for each plane. Everyone in a car would gridlock the city. Travel in different directions can easily be split.
A fully utilized electric plane commuter system would be like a very sparse and roomy version of the 5th element. Plus the vehicles look more light plane like instead of like cars.
Even more space with less density out in the burbs and metro areas.
Urban 1,749 km² (675.3 sq mi)
Metro 7,125 km² (2,751 sq mi)
Overcrowding of electric planes will not be a problem for a long time, because it has to get popular and the planes have to be built and the factories for the planes have to be built. (decades)
Any building to building service would require vertical hover capable versions.
Parking would be an issue well before.
Licensed pilots would be a stepping stone situation until robotic flight is mainstream. Although good robotic would be the preferred option to make this the safest high volume transportation alternative.
Sport pilot licenses would be enough. 3 hours of dual training over 60 days and 20 hours of flight time.
Once someone was flying themselves for commuting or other purpose, then racking up the flight hours for a private pilot license would be easy.
There are almost 250,000 general aviation planes in the USA
So electric and hybrid planes in the $40,000-140,000 range will further expand those numbers. High volumes could bring the price down and numbers of these planes up. The growth could be faster than electric cars and closely trace the volume of hybrid cars.
Micropilot is leader in small UAV autopilots
- World’s smallest UAV autopilot; 28 grams, 4 cm by 10 cm
- GPS waypoint navigation with altitude and airspeed hold
- Completely independent operation including autonomous takeoff, bungee launch, hand launch and landing
The US Army is starting an ambitious UAV procurement program.