NASA Puffin

Summary

The NASA Puffin is a proposed tiltrotor electric airplane designed to transport one person over short distances.

Created by a consortium led by NASA, this conceptual aircraft features vertical take-off and landing (like a helicopter), forward winged flight (like an airplane), and low-noise battery power.

The Puffin rests on its tail, lands on its tail, and can hover like a helicopter. It has the capacity to carry one person.

Because it runs on battery (electric) power, and not traditional internal combustion, the Puffin is promoted as highly efficient and environmentally friendly.

With the Puffin, NASA hopes to bridge the gap between automobiles and airplanes, and show how daily life may be different for people owning such an aircraft.


How it Works

The Puffin takes off like a helicopter and flies like a plane. As it lifts off it hovers vertically before transitioning to a horizontal position.

In forward flight the pilot is lying facing down (as if in a hand glider). The front (or top) section of the Puffin is transparent, giving the pilot visibility.

The Puffin flying style is similar to the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey.

During landing, the aircraft hovers downward in a vertical position with the tail section splitting into four legs. On the ground it rests in a vertical (standing) position, with the tail serving as the landing gear.


Electric Motors

The Puffin design calls for two electric motors for propulsion.

Electricity has the following advantages over internal combustion, according to the designers:

  • electric motors are quieter, cleaner and lighter;
  • electric motors have less moving parts, making them more reliable and easier to maintain;
  • electric motors generate less heat, meaning greater stealth (for military purposes) and less cooling air (which reduces aerodynamic drag);
  • electric motors have no emissions, making the Puffin environmentally friendly; and,
  • electric motors aren't limited by air density, meaning they can operate normally at high altitudes.

In addition, the Puffin motors have built-in redundancy as a safety feature: The aircraft can hover even if one motor fails.


Development Team & Name

The Puffin was conceived by Mark Moore, an aerospace engineer at NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia.

His collaborators on the project include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Georgia Institute of Technology, the National Institute of Aerospace, M-DOT Aerospace, and other NASA engineers.

The Puffin name derives from the Puffin seabird, which Mark Moore contends has characteristics similar to his aircraft. As he stated to Scientific American:

...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. But it's also apparently called the most environmentally friendly bird, because it hides its poop, and we're environmentally friendly because we have essentially no emissions. Also, puffins tend to live in solitude, only ever coming together on land to mate, and ours is a one-person vehicle.

Applications

In theory, the Puffin has the potential to revolutionize personal transportation.

Its small, lightweight, and low-noise characteristics enable the Puffin to land and take-off from almost anywhere (including residential neighborhoods and busy urban centers).

This means that flying places may not require a drive to the airport (and maybe sitting in heavy traffic).

These same characteristics, in addition to a low thermal signature, make the Puffin well-suited for military operations, such as covert troop insertions.

Unmanned versions of the Puffin could also be used for moving supplies.

The possibilities of such an aircraft may be as vast as the possibilities were when the Ford Model T was conceived.

Specifications

Length: 12 feet / 3.7 meters
Wing Span: 14.5 feet / 4.1 meters
Weight: 400 lbs / 181 kilograms (includes 100 lbs / 45 kilograms battery)
Construction: Carbon fiber composites
Cruising Speed: 150 mph / 241 kph (in horizontal flight)
Rotor Diameter: 2.3 meters / 7.5 feet
Battery: Rechargeable lithium phosphate (2)
Horsepower: 60
Range: 50 miles / 80 kilometers (range tied to current battery technology; stronger battery will enable longer range)
Flight ceiling: None (limited by battery life, however, to about 9,000 meters / 30,000 feet)

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