The new buzz in town is UAM or urban air mobility, a new mode of air-transportation for carrying both stuff and people. The new modality also demands new types certification definitions for the aircrafts, and ground infrastructure for traffic, guidance and navigation.
Tighter flight envelopes being an inherent requirement, there is a push for all-electric aircrafts. And dominant-electric in the case of hybrid vehicles. One thing to be noted is that, majority of the energy is spent in propulsion whether for horizontal cruise or vertical lift. In addition, actuators such as control surfaces, stabilizing propulsion etc., will also consume significant amount of power.
Urban flights can be of diminutive durations, which may be achieved by existing battery technologies itself, but there are challenges. One is the safety design of the aircraft itself, and another is operational procedures in vertical airports. Issues within aircraft are- discharge profiles in vertical and horizontal maneuvers, range, flight-time, and reserve, pertaining to different designs. An example of operational challenge is: how are aircrafts buffered for battery exchange or recharge? When hundreds of aircrafts start to fly in the low altitude airspace, the smallest crack in safety gets bigger in the collective airspace system. This needs ground-up synthesis of safety cases into battery and management tech.
An example case is vertical landing burns more battery than takeoff, and how to keep safety profile appropriate. Unlike a Tesla’s 1,300-lb. battery and motor, UAM would need to be much lighter in weight with high-density motors and batteries.
- Understand the concept of UAM and how NASA is pushing both the concept and airspace system
- Anatomy of a safe urban drone/aircrafr/flying car
- Challenges and limitations of existing aircrafts/ATM/air traffic system
Why Is It Important?
Both future passengers and industry makers of UAM aircrafts will benefit from this discourse. Enthusiasts and future passengers will understand how easy or risky it is to have commercial drones and flying-car operations in a metro airspace.
Also, the American aerospace industry will be a wench under Chinese communist government soon. (Read Cirrus aircraft, drones etc.) The existing aerospace industry is sort of subsidized by the government spending and typical innovation cycles are 8 to 10 years for a certified airworthy aircraft system.
UAM is a new framework and a clean-sheet challenge. For pervasive commercial applications, we need both maturity of existing aerospace industry and also be quick to develop newer technologies and achieve manufacturing adulthood at home in the USA. There is a huge potential to spawn an entirely new industry both developing full-systems and subsystems. (Ex: At XAIR, we are searching for newer engine types and composite nylon-based hydraulic actuator systems.)
The scenario for industry is be quick or go home in the global competition.