A parallel Worlds

Sunday February 21 2010 / Science & Technology

The NASA Puffin is a one-man (or woman) tilt-rotor electric aircraft imagined by aerospace engineer Mark Moore. Moore came up with the design for the electric powered, 3.7m/12' long, 4.4m/14' wingspan personal air vehicle as part of the coursework for his doctoral degree.

NASA Puffin

It all started with an email from a reporter who was pursuing a story on electric aircraft propulsion for "a couple of websites associated with space.com." As the former manager of the former Vehicle System program's Personal Air Vehicle sector. Moore is a nationally recognized expert on that and other small aircraft systems.

"We're not trying to replace the car or the airplane," Moore said. "Cars are great at what they do, which is go a couple of miles at relatively slow speeds. Commercial air carriers are great at going long distances at faster speeds. But what happens when we want to go 100 or 200 or 300 miles? We have to take this very long drive."

If the Puffin gets off the ground, and it has to be admitted that is still a big IF, the theoretical technical details are very interesting.The Puffin would be small and very lightweight -- about 136kg/300 pounds empty weight, plus another 45kgs/100 pounds of battery and 91kgs/200pounds for the pilot or payload. The design would be powered by a total of 60 horsepower through electric motors, which are designed to be able to fail any two powertrain components on either side and still produce the required power to hover. It has a cruising speed of 241kms/hr or 150 mph, but cruises more efficiently at lower speeds The range with current battery technology would be about 80kms/50 miles.

"There is a huge gaping hole in our transportation system," Moore added. "We're trying to come up with another alternative."

NASA has spent about $500,000 on the Puffin, which was developed in partnership with Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Georgia Institute of Technology, the National Institute of Aerospace and M-DOT Aerospace.

While there are no plans yet for the Puffin's first manned flight, NASA expects to finish a one-third size demonstrator by March and see how well it transitions from cruising to hovering.

"The intent is not to be a viable product. NASA doesn't develop products; we develop new technologies that can provide industry with the ability to generate new products,"
Moore said.

For more informatiuon, please visit www.nasa.gov/topics/technology/features/puffin

Suggested by
Ian Skellern