NASA changed part of its research from outer space to the space above our roofs a few years ago without much publicity.
NASA is developing its own idea of personal air vehicles, but more importantly, they are developing “a collision-deterring navigation system that could make skyways safer than highways”.
NASA is taking the ‘flying car dreamers’ serious now; they are dealing with industry professionals. A spokesperson commented: “You’d have to look at all aspects of it, how it would integrate in greater society and affect our quality of life.”
”You can say our goal is to make the second car in every driveway a personal air vehicle,” says Andrew Hahn, chief engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Hahn’s engineering department is already committed to a 15-year time line for three successive generations of flying cars – make that personal air vehicles or PVAs.
Vehicle miles traveled on all streets have increased by 30 percent every 10 years, lately. Yet, during the last decade or two, the number of highway miles constructed has only lengthened at two percent, and this is expected to be less than one percent in the next decade.
Traffic authorities are concerned that during our lifetime, Canada and the USA will experience gridlock situation like those that happen in Europe: During holiday travel, hundred-kilometer-stretches of Motorways and Autobahns are at a standstill. To make matters worse, North America does not have the hi-speed train system that exists in parts of Europe or Asia.
For that reason, NASA, Boeing, McDonnel-Douglas and other companies are seriously working on ‘aero-cars’.
Previously, we touched on the history of ‘flying cars’. The Moller “Skycar” is getting close to commercial reality, according to knowledgeable insiders at the US space agency and aeronautical firms, as cited in the previous (2015 05 10) article on this subject. A possible tie-up for Skycar production with a Chinese firm is in the works.
Another serious contender for ‘first to market’ is the X-Hawk, big brother of the City-Hawk and AirMule. Dr. Rafi Yoeli organized the Urban Aeronautics firm in Israel, after spending part of his carrier as founder and manager of Aero Design & Development at Israel Aircraft Industries, and as a Senior Engineer at Boeing Aircraft.
UrbanAero and Bell Helicopter, part of a large industrial supply company, are now working together to develop Yoeli’s ‘Hawks’ for production.
Though late by a number of years, X-Hawk is far less complex than the before-mentioned “Skycar”, by using two small turbine engines instead of eight Wankel rotary engines. By its description, it is also easier to control: X-Hawk is propelled by ducted fans that lift and push the craft. Small vanes above and below the fans, like a Venetian blind, are computer controlled with sensor input, to counteract wind gusts automatically, or react to steering input.
Because the fans are encased in the structure, not in the open like a helicopter blade, the X-Hawk can fly between buildings in narrow streets. As an example, it can maneuver right up to a high-rise building to evacuate people. Sliding doors would allow a person to step from a windowsill right into to the vehicle hovering just inches away.
Through Bell Helicopters connections with the US military, there is interest in using the X-Hawk for special missions, its size allowing room for one pilot and eleven troops.
Urban Aero already has one well-financed and enthusiastic potential private customer lined up. The Pittsburg based emergency-rescue company STAT MedEvac is waiting to get the first F.A.A. approved X-Hawk to augment their ambulance fleet.
James Bothwell of MedEvac states: ”When it comes to using helicopters in cities and suburbs, we’re extremely limited in the places we can land, so a paramedic unit on the scene would have to transport a victim two or three blocks to meet the chopper.” Bothwell forecasts: “With X-Hawk, our pilots will be able to fly at least 1,000 missions a year that would otherwise be impossible due to weather or ground conditions”. He added, “I can see us having five or six X-Hawks in our fleet.”
To be sure, Bell Helicopter acknowledges that the X-Hawk could be used to accomplish “midlevel structure infill,” that is “the loading and off-loading of people in a hover through windows above the ground floor”.
To take a product from dream to reality in the past required a drafting table and a shop; It now takes computers, robots and an assembly line. And willing investors and waiting customers; Urban Aero announced the signing of the first purchase order by an Israeli hospital.
Car manufacturers on three continents have been, or are now producing aicraft, or are connected with aircraft manufacturing; to add personal air vehicles would not be that farfetched. (Ford; Honda; see article 2015 04 12; Daimler, part owner of Airbus)
As new EV companies are coming into existence, so do air-car manufacturers — Terrafugia is one of them.