Beta

×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

First Fully Electric Manned Helicopter Flight

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the not-yet-for-the-daily-commuter dept.

Transportation 86

cylonlover writes "On August 12, electrical/aerospace engineer and helicopter pilot Pascal Chretien took to the sky in the world's first untethered, fully electric manned helicopter flight in a prototype machine that he designed and built almost entirely by himself within a 12-month development period. In his 2-minute, 10-second test flight, Chretien beat aviation giant Sikorsky into the record books — but it was not without significant risk. As the man himself puts it: 'in case of crash I stand good chances to end up in kebab form.'"

cancel ×

86 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

good but not enough. (1)

g00mbasv (2424710) | more than 2 years ago | (#37309832)

I will NOT be satisfied until I see a real life StarScream or at least a well mannered ThunderCracker.

CHINESE SELLING WMDS TO LIBYA !! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37309854)

Yeehaawwww !! More power to the regime !!

Noise? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37309862)

And what were decibels of that vehicle?
I am more interested just for that information as it gives answers what are possibilities to companies and governments to use those in spec-ops missions.
Like you could fly only a hundred meters from the target to drop person(s) and then fly off without anyone hearing you.
As on current vehicles the noise is just too loud so you end up a few klicks away.

Re:Noise? (3, Informative)

monkeyhybrid (1677192) | more than 2 years ago | (#37309928)

According to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] , most of the noise from a helicopter is generated by the rotors, so although I'm sure the electric engine will be quieter than turbine engines used in most helicopters today, it's not likely to make a huge difference to the overall noise.

Re:Noise? (1)

wgibson (1345509) | more than 2 years ago | (#37311130)

Well yes, but this is a coaxial design, so combining the removal of the noisy engine, with the noise reduction inherent in coaxial rotor configurations, it may well be noticeably quieter than a "conventional helicopter".

Reduced noise is a second advantage of the configuration - part of the loud 'slapping' noise associated with conventional helicopters arises from interaction between the airflows from the main and tail rotors, which in some designs can be severe.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coaxial_rotors#Other_benefits [wikipedia.org]

Re:Noise? (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 2 years ago | (#37316538)

NOTAR [wikimedia.org] works better. Fans can be much quieter, and this leaves you with only one large rotor.

Re:Noise? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37310718)

With this, there will be only blade noise, so it'll sound like WOP-WOP-WOP-WOP-WOP instead of WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH.

What's that, current helicopters already sound like WOP-WOP-WOP-WOP-WOP? Then maybe you should have thought about whether that's blade noise or engine noise before posting your dumb crap all over the internet.

Re:Noise? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37310928)

Are the US killers so fat that they can't walk a couple of miles to their kill?

Re:Noise? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37311014)

wassamatter fatty, too fat to walk? Here I'll carry that heavy gun for you.

Re:Noise? (2)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#37311604)

There's no way to make a quiet helicopter. The sound comes from the rotors mainly, not the engine, and there's no way to quiet the sound of what's basically a giant fan that's powerful to lift itself and several thousand pounds of vehicle and passengers/cargo into the air.

The chopping sound you hear from many helicopters is an interaction between the tail rotor and the main rotor. This can be eliminated or reduced in various ways, such as with the NOTAR design which simply has no tail rotor (it uses a different method of generating anti-torque force). But if you've ever been near an MD500 in flight, you'd know that these helicopters aren't quiet either, just not quite as obnoxious as the traditional styles. Other helicopters with tail rotors do things such as space the tail rotor blades unevenly, or point the tail rotor off-axis, to reduce the noise signature. Take a look at the tail rotor on an Apache AH64D or a Comanche (which never got past prototype stage).

The only way you're going to make a truly quiet helicopter is to make one that doesn't have any rotors at all, and lifts itself with antigravity propulsion, which is clearly in the realm of Star Trek. Or, I suppose you could make one with really small rotor blades, like maybe 12 inches across, but then you'll be restricted to a craft that can only lift a pound or two of weight. Those R/C helicopters everyone's selling these days are fairly quiet, but don't expect to carry much with one.

Re:Noise? (1)

Squiddie (1942230) | more than 2 years ago | (#37312034)

Well you could use it for a UAV or something. I'm sure you could make one carry a gun. Or it could just explode when it's close enough to its target.

Re:Noise? (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#37312734)

Again, a 12-inch rotor diameter isn't going to carry much, probably not even enough for a handgun. Those little R/C helicopters are all made out of styrofoam for a reason. You'll have to increase the rotor diameter to carry enough weight for a decent UAV, but then your noise is going to go way up along with it.

Re:Noise? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37312814)

Making them silent is probably impossible, but quieting them significantly is not. Simply adding more rotor blades helps, as does altering the tip shape. Much of the sound is caused by the rotor blade tips, as they are the portion that goes supersonic.

Wow.... (4, Funny)

RobinEggs (1453925) | more than 2 years ago | (#37309884)

Major props to this guy.

Re:Wow.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37309906)

Ha ha ha. But it's a ROTOR. :-P

Re:Wow.... (2)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 2 years ago | (#37310222)

Haha I was following Sikorsky's efforts, they put bleeding-edge batteries into a proper helicopter airframe, spent who knows how much to have the first electric helicopter.

And this guys beats them to it with his little hacked-up whirlygig that looks like it was made of old government school chair frames and tracing paper.

That's the ultimate Frosty Piss right there. You hear that trolls? None of you will ever be as good as this guy.

Re:Wow.... (3, Insightful)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#37311696)

I haven't read TFA yet, but there's probably a difference in goals here: a fully-electric helicopter at the lowest possible cost, vs. a fully-electric helicopter that's actually somewhat usable for the things you'd normally use a helicopter for.

With enough time, I could put together a homebrew electric helicopter that lifts me up in a lawn chair, but what good is that? All it does is prove a concept, but I could have told you before that such a thing is perfectly possible, and you don't need to actually go to any effort to prove it. Unless you can actually lift a significant amount of weight, and have an airframe that meets various regulations, has all the required instruments, has the required measure of crash protection (normal helicopters actually do have a certain amount of crashworthiness, to prevent needless deaths from low-speed crashes near the ground, such as from "hard landings" and other accidents that occur before the craft has reached any altitude), has all the required lights, and can perform within a sufficient envelope, then it's fairly pointless to build something like this.

Converting any fossil-fuel-powered vehicle to electric power isn't rocket science. There really isn't that much to it: you get rid of the piston/turbine engine, stick an electric motor in its place (there's a lot of different kinds of motors however and I'll avoid getting into that), and then most importantly, you put in enough batteries to hold the power you'll need for that motor. That last part is the hard one, because right now we simply don't have batteries capable of coming close to the energy density offered by a fuel tank full of gasoline, diesel, or kerosene. The motor part is easy; we've had great electric motors for a long time, and the brushless-DC motor technology we have now is simply fantastic, but without a way of storing enough electricity to make them usable, it's all for naught.

It's worse in a helicopter however than in a car. In a car, weight isn't that much of a factor (since it doesn't have to lift itself off the ground, after all), so a few hundred pounds of batteries can be a perfectly acceptable tradeoff in light of the fact that gas engines waste a lot of fuel by being oversized for their applications (a car engine has to be sized for its peak load, not its average load, and accelerating from a stoplight requires much more power than simply cruising at 55, but the bigger the engine, the bigger the frictional and pumping losses). In an aircraft, engines aren't oversized for peak loads; in helicopters, they're always run at 100% of their rated rpm. So with converting a car to electric drive, you get to improve your efficiency by the fact that most of the time, you only need 10-20 HP or so to maintain your speed, and you only drain that much energy from your batteries and don't suffer any significant loss of efficiency by having an electric motor that can deliver 150 HP when it needs to. But with a helicopter, you have to run it at 200HP (or whatever; that's what a small 2-seat training helicopter would need; something that can hold 6 people would need more like 1000+) constantly, from the time you lift off until you touch down. That's a LOT of energy to store in batteries, and is quite frankly beyond our technology.

Re:Wow.... (1)

value (2182292) | more than 2 years ago | (#37313868)

A nuclear power generator can be fitted in an aircraft, and it's not above our technology. It's just above our politics.

Re:Wow.... (1)

Adriax (746043) | more than 2 years ago | (#37317022)

Make it cheap enough and toss in a networked autopilot, electric copters could replace the family sedan.
Suburbia would be filled with the sound of a thousand angry bees every morning.

Re:Wow.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37315554)

I haven't read TFA yet, but there's probably a difference in goals here: a fully-electric helicopter at the lowest possible cost, vs. a fully-electric helicopter that's actually somewhat usable for the things you'd normally use a helicopter for.

With enough time, I could put together a homebrew electric helicopter that lifts me up in a lawn chair, but what good is that?

YAWN. But you didn't and saying "i could have done that" makes you look like a girl.

Re:Wow.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37317378)

Just need suitcase reactor

Re:Wow.... (1)

7-Vodka (195504) | more than 2 years ago | (#37311932)

Yeah, his head must be spinning!

don't play saxophone, if you're not grounded (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37309922)

"as the flight ended in disaster leading to the deaths of its entire crew."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_McNair#Music_in_Space_project

"something went wrong and the player fell to his death"
http://cafesaxophone.com/showthread.php?5512-Finn-Martin-Dead

Don't play saxophone, if you're not grounded.

Tax him (-1, Offtopic)

udachny (2454394) | more than 2 years ago | (#37309932)

And what about taxes, how will he pay for the privilege of using his vehicle flying around in the government protected skies? I don't understand how this can be taxed yet, but it must be taxed. He is not using aviation kerosene, right? So what about all the expenses that the FAA will have to incur because of him that will not be covered by him paying taxes? Probably the way is to install a GPS on this thing and to have it monitored for the miles flown and tax based on distance. Other than that - this is good stuff. Let's have government subsidies and all sorts of money go this way, build an industry around it, stop the wars and spend the money on these machines. Obviously this will require more engineers and all sorts of stimulus can be done and obviously that's how we fix the economy.

Re:Tax him (2)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 2 years ago | (#37310026)

Fuel taxes are not how the FAA is funded. You sir suck at sarcasm.

The rest of your pathetic attempt failed just as poorly.

Re:Tax him (0)

udachny (2454394) | more than 2 years ago | (#37310124)

Where do you see sarcasm? It's pure cheer-leading for America and American economy. Economy needs restoration, fix it by building more electrical helicopters. Get this guy money, but to get money, go after the war budget. Engineers, designers, sales, everything - it's a pure win! Need to build more stuff, but taxes are an issue. I don't know, maybe FAA is not funded through taxes, but it needs to be paid if this guy and others are going to fly around in his helicopter. I may be not the sharpest pencil out there, but economy needs more stuff to be made, so make more electrical helicopters.

Re:Tax him (1)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 2 years ago | (#37310380)

You know, mate, you seriously suck at straw man burning. Drop a few more mentions of "taxes" in there, and you might get some cheers from the teabaggers for your exceedingly sharp wit.

Re:Tax him (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37310726)

what's your problem today, got out of bed on the wrong side?

Re:Tax him (2)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#37311720)

You can't build electric helicopters. The battery technology does not exist to make viable electric helicopters. Some silly toy that someone built in his garage that has a 2-minute flying time (or whatever) is not a replacement for a real helicopter, any more than this [youtube.com] is a replacement for a normal car.

Re:Tax him (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37312048)

That is one badass vehicle, though. You can tell because of the awesome rock music.

"I stand good chances to end up in kebab form" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37309970)

Oh, I'm sure that could catch on eventually.

Re:"I stand good chances to end up in kebab form" (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#37309990)

Putting the Li-poly packs right under the driver's seat seems a bit perverse; but helicopters are already pretty dangerous by aircraft standards, and people seem to put up with them where required...

While this is certainly novel and interesting... (0)

FlyingGuy (989135) | more than 2 years ago | (#37309978)

It will end up a curiosity since it has no real world application. Helicopters consume vast amounts of energy just to stay aloft, much less get any work done.

Just like the electric float plane featured ob /. it simply wont scale. The laws of physics and thermodynamics simply cannot be ignored.

Mass will always be a factor until we figure out an anti-gravity field or some other star treckian device to reduce our apparent mass we simply cannot get enough energy out of today's batteries or fuel cells -v- their mass.

I am a pilot and there are few people in the world besides us that really want this tech to work more then we do, but I am pretty darn sure I am going to be completely decomposed long before this ever happens.

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (1)

amorsen (7485) | more than 2 years ago | (#37310280)

The laws of physics still have room for at least a 10-fold improvement in battery technology compared to current commercially available batteries. Of course this helicopter is a curiosity, it would be a curiosity even if it was powered by a conventional engine! It isn't exactly something you could use for commercial flights.

I would expect to see electric private planes to become popular within 10 years (popular within the small community which has private planes anyway) and perhaps another 10 years before it makes serious inroads among smaller helicopters.

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (2)

jklovanc (1603149) | more than 2 years ago | (#37310394)

The energy density of the battery is 0.576 MJ/kg. The energy density of kerosene type BP Jet A-1, 43.15 MJ/kg. To get the same energy density the battery would have to be 74 times as efficient. That is a bit of a stretch for batteries.

Did you also notice that the helicopter was flown in ground effect which decreases the energy required. One would think he would have tried an endurance test to see how the batteries stood up. 130 second is not a long flight.

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (4, Informative)

amorsen (7485) | more than 2 years ago | (#37310590)

Energy density for lithium air is 18.8MJ/kg, if you have to carry the oxygen with you. Twice that at take off if you use atmospheric air. 9MJ/kg including oxygen has been achieved in the lab. Not 43MJ/kg, certainly, but you are lucky to get a third of that energy out with helicopter engines and the engines or turbines are quite heavy.

Yes, the particular electric helicopter from TFA is all fun and games and doesn't have a future. Nothing wrong with a bit of fun and games.

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37310672)

It's longer than the Wright Bros stayed up.

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 2 years ago | (#37310302)

Hah you probably would have said all the same things if you were alive in the age of the Wright Brothers, and you would have been equally wrong for all the same reasons.

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37310434)

Shush! I'm trying to work on my time machine...

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37310838)

Time machine? I've already got one, although it's a go-forward model only at this point. And it is rather slow -- it takes about 60 seconds to go forward 1 minute.

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 2 years ago | (#37311044)

Hah, I have one that goes forward a whole day every 24 hours.

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37310966)

Sorry, you're clueless as usual. The energy limits of fossil fuels were nowhere near being reached when the Wright Brothers flew their kite with a gas motor on it.

With this helicopter, we know exactly how much energy we need, and we know that batteries can't get close. We know because our technology and knowledge have increased a lot since the Wright Brothers. Or do you think our knowledge is wrong?

Or you can wait ten years. By that time, the Wright Brothers' kite already transformed into viable planes with much longer ranges and speeds. Let's see if it happens with electric helicopters.

Let me save you ten years: won't happen.

There, now you can go back to your Space Nutter fantasies, Gameboy. It's obvious you're a programmer. Stick to that.

But let me indulge you. You said "ou would have been equally wrong for all the same reasons"

Well, show me these reasons. If you're intellectually honest, which Space Nutters usually aren't, show me that list of reasons.

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (2)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#37311778)

Or you can wait ten years. By that time, the Wright Brothers' kite already transformed into viable planes with much longer ranges and speeds. Let's see if it happens with electric helicopters.

Let me save you ten years: won't happen.

Well, it might happen, but it won't be because anyone built electric-powered aircraft, it'll be because someone completely disconnected from the aviation industry worked away in a lab experimenting with battery chemistries and different materials (such as nanotubes) until they found something that worked and provided the required energy density. Aviation isn't the only place where batteries with much higher energy densities would be very useful; everyone's screaming for electric cars these days (which burn far, far more fuel than aircraft in total), and those aren't quite viable yet either, because of battery technology. Plus, everyone wants their phone or their laptop to run longer between charges. Aviation is probably going to be the last place to move away from fossil fuel, because the energy density is such an important requirement, far more so than in ground vehicles.

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37312498)

"until they found something that worked and provided the required energy density"

Wow, you really believe that? It isn't 1922 anymore. You can't make breakthoughs in the physical/chemical world in a garage anymore. Software wankery is just that; wanking. Anyone can bodge together gigabytes of code and "innovate". The real world? Not so much. As with the other dude, I wish you well, but in ten years, nothing will have changed.

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#37312776)

Wow, you really believe that? It isn't 1922 anymore. You can't make breakthoughs in the physical/chemical world in a garage anymore.

Where did I say anything about a garage, or about a single person?
Let me repeat what I wrote before:

"it'll be because someone completely disconnected from the aviation industry worked away in a lab experimenting with battery chemistries and different materials (such as nanotubes) until they found something that worked and provided the required energy density."

Maybe the "someone" threw you, and I should have said "some party" but this isn't a research paper or anything else where people double-check everything for precise grammar, it's the electronic equivalent to shooting the shit at a bar. The bit about nanotubes should have been a tip-off that this comment wasn't assuming garage inventors; I've never heard of anyone making nanotubes in their garage. The word "lab" should have been a tip-off too; how many people have a lab? No, a garage is not a real lab, a lab is a room in a building at an institution that has the money to build a real lab. And where else do you think the engineers and scientists who create the next generation of batteries are going to do so? In a cubicle?

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37315410)

"And where else do you think the engineers and scientists who create the next generation of batteries are going to do so? In a cubicle?"

Do they have cubicles in China?

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (1)

BasilBrush (643681) | more than 2 years ago | (#37315192)

The requirements for aircraft and car batteries are different. Aircraft motors run at a pretty constant speed. Cars are constantly accelerating, decelerating and braking (which on the more advanced EVs means a little recharging). Also if a car battery fails, that's annoying. If an aircraft battery fails, that may be fatal.

In both cases you want the lightest battery given the usage profile. And that means different for those two applications.

And mobile phone and laptop batteries are different again.

Sure, the Tesla Roadster is built with laptop batteries. But that's because they are a small manufacturer who designed their car in a hurry, used a tiny and light body-shell (from the Lotus Elise) and were in a market that could stand expensive batteries. They could afford to compromise. The mass market of family cars at affordable prices and with decent ranges requires specialist batteries designed specifically for cars.

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 2 years ago | (#37315664)

I'm a Space Nutter now because I'm pro-space-exploration? Even though I've made arguments in the past for unmanned rather than manned space travel and made demonstrations that it wouldn't be economically viable to collect watermelon-sized diamonds from the surface of Mars? Wow, doesn't take much to get that label I guess.

Well, I think Grishnakh said everything I would have had to say down here:

http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=2413768&cid=37311778 [slashdot.org]

And as with the Wright Brothers who hadn't reached the limit of what fossil fuels were capable of, we haven't reached the limits of what electrons are capable of. We're just using the equivalent of their fragile inefficient old engine. Wait until we have the equivalent of a Rotax.

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (2)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#37311768)

Oh please. Do you even know anything about physics or the current state of battery technology?

The Wright Brothers were still trying to figure out principles of aerodynamics and invent a craft that could fly through the air in a controllable manner. (Some other people had already invented working airplanes before them; they weren't the first. The problem was that their predecessors made planes that took off, flew a short distance, and then crashed. The Wrights invented a plane that could turn.) We don't have that problem; we already know how to make high-performance airframes. We even know how to make high-performance electric motors that could power them. The only thing we don't know is how to store enough energy in a small enough and light enough device to make an electric aircraft a viable alternative to current fossil-fuel powered ones. Building prototypes isn't going to change that simple fact.

If you want to make electric aviation a reality, you have to wait for the people working on battery technology, or start working on battery technology yourself. Battery technology is a very different domain from aerospace engineering, but putting people to work building unusable electric aircraft isn't going to move battery technology along any faster than it would help GPS navigation technology; even though most modern aircraft use that too, it's not something aircraft builders have any expertise in, they just buy a Garmin box and bolt it into the cockpit.

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (1)

BasilBrush (643681) | more than 2 years ago | (#37314962)

If they'd have waited for suitable batteries to be developed for mobile phones, before building phones, then we wouldn't have anywhere near as good mobile phones right now.

Instead they just used the batteries that were available at the time, and accepted the fact that a mobile phone needed a battery-pack the size of a shoebox.

It was the fact that there was an actual demand for better mobile phone batteries that spurred development. That demand wouldn't have been their had phone manufacturers waited.

Same goes for electric cars. Development of suitable batteries for cars is now progressing at a fast rate. But that's only happened because car manufacturers have actually stared producing electric cars.

It's chicken and egg. If the product manufacturers wait for the battery manufacturers, then the battery manufacturers will wait for the product designers. To get progress, both have to move forward at the same time.

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#37317526)

If they'd have waited for suitable batteries to be developed for mobile phones, before building phones, then we wouldn't have anywhere near as good mobile phones right now. Instead they just used the batteries that were available at the time, and accepted the fact that a mobile phone needed a battery-pack the size of a shoebox.

Bad comparison. I'm old enough to remember the "bag phones". Back then, sure, batteries weren't quite as good, but that wasn't the biggest problem, it was the phone technology itself. AMPS wasn't very power-efficient, and the electronics back then weren't as power-efficient as they are now. The battery technology actually hasn't changed all that much; there's probably been a lot more improvement in the electronics' power usage than in the battery storage capacity.

But on top of all of that, even with the lousy form-factor (a phone that takes up an entire briefcase?), this was still a very usable alternative to no mobile phone at all. Sure, it was bulky compared to today's phones, but it was still an improvement over not having a mobile phone at all, and became a very worthwhile investment for people in certain professions where that capability was useful.

Making an electric helicopter simply isn't like this. There is NO application for a helicopter with a 2-minute flight time. It takes longer than this to pre-flight the damn thing!!! By the time you start it up and run it, and are about to pick up, you'll be out of power!

Worse, the improvements needed in battery technology are orders of magnitude. I don't have any figures handy, but I'm quite sure the batteries in those old bag phones don't have orders of magnitude less energy density than today's cellphone batteries. Battery technology has been evolving very, very slowly over the last century, even with the recent demand for ultra-light mobile devices. Willing the technology to appear does not make it appear, nor does demand; the laws of physics have to agree, and there has to be people actually working on the problem. As I said before, the electronics have improved far more than the batteries, which is why things have gotten so small: more-efficient electronics don't require as much battery capacity. There appear to be fundamental problems with chemisty which are blocking us from making batteries with orders of magnitude better energy density, and I suspect it's probably impossible, without doing something very different, such as utilizing nanotubes or other nanoscale technology, rather than just looking for better chemicals for electrolytes like we've been doing since batteries were invented and using the same basic construction method.

Same goes for electric cars. Development of suitable batteries for cars is now progressing at a fast rate.

Is it? I haven't seen anything but very, very small incremental improvements in batteries over the last couple of decades. Certainly no orders-of-magnitude improvements. It's still questionable whether viable EVs are going to appear any time soon, or if they'll be relegated to commuter vehicles with a 50-100 mile range. A battery increase yielding 400+ mile ranges would make them truly viable, but we haven't seen anything like that yet, and instead many makers seem to be abandoning the idea altogether and instead going for plug-in hybrids for their next generation. Another thing I haven't seen any mention of is the heat problem in EVs: in regular cars, heat is produced in great quantities as a waste product, but in northern areas in the wintertime, this becomes invaluable for keeping the passengers from freezing to death in -40 temperatures. Large parts of the central US, plus much of Canada, experience very cold winters and subzero temperatures. EVs don't make much waste heat like ICE engines, so you'd need an electric heater, but those things use a lot of power, and greatly reduce the already-short range. Without a good range with the head blasting, these cars will be useless in the wintertime. And a lot of people can't afford several different cars at once; what's a two-earner household going to do, have 4 cars, two EVs for the summer commuting and two gas-burners for the rest of the time? The insurance costs alone will make that infeasible, not to mention the question of where do you park them all.

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (1)

BasilBrush (643681) | more than 2 years ago | (#37324404)

You make a good point that shoebox powered mobile phones were still and practical useful for certain markets. Whilst ultra short flight helicopter's aren't. And yet you're comparing an early shipping product to a hobbyists first prototype.

Back then, sure, batteries weren't quite as good, but that wasn't the biggest problem, it was the phone technology itself.

Well yes. And also the fact that cell towers are a lot closer today, so lower power is needed. And yet those two don't completely explain the progress from a shoe box sized battery to today's tiny batteries.

The batteries back then were Ni-Cd. Now they're Li-ion or Li-Po. In current versions of those batteries lithium have 5 times more energy density than Ni-Cd. I'm guessing that improvement is even greater compared to 30 year old designs.

Also Ni-Cds are AFAIK always made up of batteries of cylindrical cells in metal cases. Lithium batteries can be made in flatpacks to specifically fit it's application. And that adds to the practical energy density difference.

As to electric car batteries, I on't have, and can't be bothered to research the specifics, but I was listening to a 30 min interview with the CEO of Renault other day, specifically on the topic of EVs. And he was talking about how much batteries have improved over the past few years, and the expectations of improvement over the next few. Not just in chemistry, but in battery management, where software is monitoring the performance an selectively using each of the individual cells in the battery. Today they are designing batteries specifically for EVs, rather than making use of generics.

The end of your post seems to have veered off topic into an anti EV rant. Lets leave that debate for another time. I'll just say this: predicting the limits of how products will improve over time is a fools errand. When the most advanced computers filled a large room, no-one envisaged that people would be carrying a far more powerful computer in their pockets in 50 years time. And when talking about the limits of physics, they'd be referring to how small you can make each individual vacuum tube valve, not how tightly you can pack transistors on a semiconductor. EVs are already practical for some people's needs. All that's required is that they continue to improve each year, and they will eventually become the preferred option for most people. One has to remember of course that ICE is becoming a worse option as time goes by as oil becomes more scarce and thus expensive.

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#37327148)

You make a good point that shoebox powered mobile phones were still and practical useful for certain markets. Whilst ultra short flight helicopter's aren't. And yet you're comparing an early shipping product to a hobbyists first prototype.

The laws of physics prevent that "prototype" from ever becoming anything useful. Is the hobbyist working on improving battery technology? No? Then it won't work. The problem isn't helicopters, it's energy storage.

Well yes. And also the fact that cell towers are a lot closer today, so lower power is needed. And yet those two don't completely explain the progress from a shoe box sized battery to today's tiny batteries.
The batteries back then were Ni-Cd. Now they're Li-ion or Li-Po. In current versions of those batteries lithium have 5 times more energy density than Ni-Cd. I'm guessing that improvement is even greater compared to 30 year old designs.

So still not an order of magnitude. With helicopters, you need at a minimum a 100x improvement over today's very best battery technology. If they haven't even improved batteries one-tenth of that in 30 years, then working on electric helicopters now is a pointless task.

As to electric car batteries, I on't have, and can't be bothered to research the specifics, but I was listening to a 30 min interview with the CEO of Renault other day, specifically on the topic of EVs. And he was talking about how much batteries have improved over the past few years, and the expectations of improvement over the next few. Not just in chemistry, but in battery management, where software is monitoring the performance an selectively using each of the individual cells in the battery. Today they are designing batteries specifically for EVs, rather than making use of generics.

So what? How is this going to get you a 100x improvement in energy density? Sure, this might be useful for small improvements in EVs, but that's it.

The end of your post seems to have veered off topic into an anti EV rant.

That's not a rant, it's just pointing out how EVs cannot replace cars for the vast majority of Americans. Maybe they'll work out better for the French; their climate is far more mild and they probably don't drive nearly as far as we do. Over here, we need much better battery technology for EVs to become a viable alternative.

I'll just say this: predicting the limits of how products will improve over time is a fools errand.

No, trying to build useful items when the laws of physics are against you is a fools' errand.

When the most advanced computers filled a large room, no-one envisaged that people would be carrying a far more powerful computer in their pockets in 50 years time.

And what does that have to do with electric helicopters? Back in the days of no computers, a room-size computer was a very useful thing. Corporations actually used them for important tasks. It didn't matter that they didn't have today's computers, the ones they had were already useful, despite their enormous size. Electric helicopters will NEVER be useful until someone develops batteries at least 100x as energy-dense as today's. As I said before, there is no application for a helicopter that flies for 2 minutes and then crashes (two minutes isn't long enough to get enough airspeed and altitude to do an autorotation; it's really not enough to even take off).

All that's required is that they continue to improve each year, and they will eventually become the preferred option for most people.

I doubt it. A massive improvement in battery technology is required for this, and you're not going to get that by just playing with chemistry or packaging. However, this is barely related to electric helicopters, as truly practical EVs require far less improvement in batteries than helicopters would. If you don't mind having a car that can only go 30 miles on a charge and doesn't have heat, you can already build your own EV in your garage.using a donor car. You'll never make any kind of useful helicopter though, until battery technology improves 100x or more, unless you don't mind it not being able to carry humans and having a 10-pound weight limit at best, instead of 1000+ pounds.

One has to remember of course that ICE is becoming a worse option as time goes by as oil becomes more scarce and thus expensive.

That can certainly affect the viability of electric cars, by forcing people to accept cars with limited range, and making road trips very rare. However, it doesn't affect helicopters one iota, because the limitation is the laws of physics. If you can't store enough energy on your helicopter to run the rotors for an acceptable flight time (probably a minimum of 3 hours), then the machine is not usable.

Now there's no telling when advances in battery technology are going to come. Someone might develop nanowire-based batteries in two years and start manufacturing them, and these might actually provide the required energy density. But until the battery tech is there, building actual electric aircraft is going to be a fruitless venture. It makes about as much sense at trying to build a solar-powered car. (I can see it now, someone's going to reply to this saying EV makers can put solar panels on car roofs... morons)

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (1)

BasilBrush (643681) | more than 2 years ago | (#37330570)

We ought to.call you Scotty. "Ye cannie change the laws of physics captain."

Clearly there is no such law of physics, since there already is a technology that packs the required energy density. A fuel tank. We're looking for an alternative to something that already exists, not something impossible.

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | more than 2 years ago | (#37330874)

Clearly there is no such law of physics, since there already is a technology that packs the required energy density. A fuel tank. We're looking for an alternative to something that already exists, not something impossible.

I never said batteries with the energy density of a fuel tank are impossible, only that they don't exist right now. What's impossible is using today's battery technology to create a helicopter that can come remotely close to replacing a conventional fossil-fuel-powered one. People keep saying some small improvements here and there will change this, but what they miss is that the laws of physics show that the energy required to make a helicopter work are so much higher than what today's battery technology can deliver, that nothing short of a complete revolution in battery technology will make this dream come true.

I have no doubt that it's possible to make batteries with the required energy density, it's just a matter of when. (Looking at human society today, I do have my doubts that humans can ever achieve it; it looks to me like we're might be at a technological peak and will shortly descend into another Dark Ages due to social and governmental factors, and it's questionable whether we'll survive to rebuild society again instead of becoming extinct due to various environmental factors. Even super-optimistic Star Trek shows us going into a Dark Age pretty soon, with our only salvation being Zephram Cochrane inventing the warp drive from old rocket parts and getting the Vulcans to come help us save our society (see "First Contact").) And because the improvements in energy density needed are SO great, I contend that building prototypes is just a waste of time. It's like trying to build a solar-powered car with today's solar panels. There simply isn't enough area on a car's roof to capture enough sunlight at today's PV efficiency to make enough power to even move a normal car. The only solar-powered "cars" that have been made were not cars at all, but really bicycles that traveled at walking speeds.

If you want to make electric helicopters a reality, stop wasting time building helicopters, and get to work inventing better batteries. There's no other way. If you don't have the expertise or capability to research better battery technology, then find something more productive to spend your time on than toys with no real-world value.

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37310448)

1) Prepare to be modded down as reality is not welcome at Slashdot, especially in energy and space discussions.

2) If you think "but I am pretty darn sure I am going to be completely decomposed long before this ever happens.", shouldn't you be concerned about life extension efforts first?

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (1)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | more than 2 years ago | (#37310706)

No real world application (yet) perhaps, but I was actually surprised to see a more or less practical helicopter design, instead of something looking like those human-powered airplanes made up of rice paper and balsawood, with a 150m wingspan, requiring two guys to run along to balance it on takeoffs, etc. And if flight times increase, it will find some uses.

The control stick setup reminded me a little of the Kolibrie helicopter [youtube.com] , which has a similar "hobby" look to it. By the way, someone mentioned batteries going flat in the air... seems to me there's no autorotation on this thing.

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (1)

queazocotal (915608) | more than 2 years ago | (#37310716)

I've got an analogous design of hoverboard. Around 30 kilos - so just about portable, can do nearly 2G of acceleration from a standing start, and will get you to around 3km altitude.
Of course, it costs several tens of thousand dollars, and would make a noise that would make the dead go looking for earplugs, and has a 'flight' time of 3-4 minutes.

(15Kg of really fast discharge rated li-ion, around a hundred closely packed ducted fan units, and a nutter on top)

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37312194)

That's not a "design", that's a daydream.

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (1)

queazocotal (915608) | more than 2 years ago | (#37313212)

It's a 'sheet of a4' design, admittedly.

However, the power budget is achievable in the mass budget, the control gear is not fundamentally harder than a quadcopter - though a lot more numerous.

All of the constituent parts are readily available, it's 'simply' a case of putting them together in simple ways.

'40C' quality li-ion cells are not hard to find, nor are reasonable thrust/weight ratio ducted fan units, nor are ESCs.

Sure there are major issues, the control laws at liftoff and transition through ground effect will be freaky, but the large excess of (instantaneous) thrust over weight helps with that.
Vortex ring is a concern.
There don't seem any fundamental showstoppers, if you're willing to fly on something that will not kill you 99 times out of a hundred.
Adding more 9's would mean a lot more testing and design.

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (1)

91degrees (207121) | more than 2 years ago | (#37310920)

I'm not sure. There's a lot of interesting tech here at least. Low weight is a plus for any aircraft and it seems that this can be transferred to other power systems. There have to be some uses for a lightweight helicopter.

Really, the only dead end is use of batteries. I reckon more suitable fuel cells will come as soon as there's a need.

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (2)

FlyingGuy (989135) | more than 2 years ago | (#37311228)

Aircraft are all made as light as they can possibly be and still fulfill their design function. The skin of you typical general aviation four place single engine is about twice as thick as a bear can. Airliners are very very fragile as evidenced by whats left when they crash as the pretty much just shred into little shards of aluminum and about the only parts left intact are the engine cores and landing gear.

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (1)

50000BTU_barbecue (588132) | more than 2 years ago | (#37311388)

"about twice as thick as a bear can. "

Is that for an adult bear or a baby bear?

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (1)

FlyingGuy (989135) | more than 2 years ago | (#37313150)

Yeah Yeah Yeah... I want a spell checker that can read my mind dammit! lol!

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37311684)

I personally buy my bears bagged and not canned. The bagged ones are much fresher, canning bears gives them a rather metallic taste.

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (1)

50000BTU_barbecue (588132) | more than 2 years ago | (#37311748)

How about the frozen ones?

Re:While this is certainly novel and interesting.. (1)

sunfly (1248694) | more than 2 years ago | (#37312358)

I am pretty darn sure I am going to be completely decomposed long before this ever happens

Perhaps in certified form, especially heli's, but take a look at what is happening in the experimental space.

There are a number of electric hybrid aircraft in development that are starting to look like we will see some practical applications in 2-3 years. Burt Rutan flew one to Oshkosh this summer. The biggest difference is they are not trying to carry all the energy in batteries, but rather just enough for takeoff. Charge the batteries with small highly efficient engine powered generator, and use a simple electric motor for propulsion. The engine does not need a wide power band, so something like a wave disk design looks promising.

At least until we get a major breakthrough in battery tech.

Brilliant achievement (2)

mbeckman (645148) | more than 2 years ago | (#37309996)

Amazing development from such a tiny operation! However, I recommend he employ a professional welder. The one rather important-looking weld [gizmag.com] he shows in a pic looks a little dodgy.

Re:Brilliant achievement (1)

Teun (17872) | more than 2 years ago | (#37310164)

According to your commend you seem to be a novice to aluminium welding because it looks pretty much standard.

Re:Brilliant achievement (2)

mbeckman (645148) | more than 2 years ago | (#37310320)

I'm a licensed A&P mechanic. The bead is very uneven and the joint on the left side looks poorly formed.

Re:Brilliant achievement (1)

cffrost (885375) | more than 2 years ago | (#37330568)

I'm a licensed A&P mechanic.

You service shopping carts? =)

Re:Brilliant achievement (1)

mbeckman (645148) | more than 2 years ago | (#37330722)

Yes. Plus Airframes and Powerplants. You haven't shopped until you've shopped with a cart sporting an Allison 250-C18 turboshaft engine and a five-blade main rotor.

Re:Brilliant achievement (1)

turgid (580780) | more than 2 years ago | (#37310674)

Ah, a fellow TWI-certified Visual Inspector of Welds!

Are you wiv me?

designed and built almost entirely by himself (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 2 years ago | (#37310016)

yea no shit that thing looks like its 1 good hit from falling apart, whats going to happen on a hard landing ie if your battery starts to die, some angle welded aluminum and 2 giant spinning food processor blades all going apeshit with you in the middle?

have fun buddy

spoiled my fun (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37310248)

i hate you

Re:designed and built almost entirely by himself (1)

Anynomous Coward (841063) | more than 2 years ago | (#37310260)

Same as what happens in a conventional light helicopter when you land badly: you die.

backup power? (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | more than 2 years ago | (#37310216)

I love the part in the article about using batteries and an electric motor to land a helicopter in case the main engine dies. Here are a few issue with that;
1. High cost of batteries and a motor big enough to land the helicopter.
2. Lift capacity decrease due to the weight of batteries and electric motor.
3. The extra fuel needed to carry the weight of the batteries and electric motor causing higher flight costs and shorter range.
4. Maintenance costs on batteries and motor that will probably never be used.
Interesting but impractical.

Re:backup power? (1)

carvalhao (774969) | more than 2 years ago | (#37310714)

Errrr... Aren't helicopters covered for that event by design? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autorotation_(helicopter) [wikipedia.org]

Re:backup power? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37310886)

You forget about this

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Height-velocity_diagram

Every helicopter has a portion of its envelope where a safe autorotation isn't possible.

Re:backup power? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37312532)

Yes. It's literally called the coffin corner, because you're so much more likely to die being in it. It's more dangerous and more carefully guarded against than stalling in fixed wing planes, and very simple and fairly light systems are available to deploy parachutes to recover from stalls. But nobody uses them except aerobatics people. Operation in those margins is simply avoided as much as possible. Maybe an electric backup would make sense for some very limited situations where coffin corner operation is unavoidable. But for regular stuff the added weight isn't worth it.

Re:backup power? (1)

BlackSmithNZ (1064822) | more than 2 years ago | (#37312514)

1. High cost of batteries and a motor big enough to land the helicopter.
> Given the cost of a typical helicopter, Li-On batteries + electric motor on the scale that this guy used, is probably a minor incremental cost.I am thinking along the lines of Honda Civic style mild-hybrid - beefed up batteries from what is normally carried and a electric motor that adds to peak output rather than totally replace it.

2. Lift capacity decrease due to the weight of batteries and electric motor.
> True - there would probably be some extra weight. You might however get some gains to offset this - i.e. getting away with a smaller gas-turbine & using electric to meet peak power requirements, or replacing twin gas-turbines (a requirment for some helicopter related tasks) with a single larger turbine & using electric to reduce the impact of a power-down on the turbine.

3. The extra fuel needed to carry the weight of the batteries and electric motor causing higher flight costs and shorter range.
> Maybe - see above. Potentially you might get some fuel savings by running the turbine at a steady rate and using the batteries to smooth out throttle inputs / rotor pitch changes .

4. Maintenance costs on batteries and motor that will probably never be used.
> You might gain here; electric motors and batteries generally require a lot less mantenance than a gas-turbine (or piston engine). Depending on the config, you could reduce a huge amount of complex gearing by switching to turbine-electric drive. Even the mild-hybrid idea, you might reduce peak load on the engine, save some fuel costs and add to the auto-rotation safety margin.

Ground effect (5, Insightful)

bwen (675669) | more than 2 years ago | (#37310540)

Not to belittle the achievement- but a height of 1 meter means he never got out of ground effect. It would take a lot more power to really fly. I mean, if a vehicle never goes out of ground effect while flying over water, it can be registered as a boat.

Disappointed for Two Reasons (1)

repetty (260322) | more than 2 years ago | (#37310554)

I was disappointed by this coverage for two reasons:

1. I wanted to hear it.
2. I wanted to see it rise above ground effect.

Why do we have to shit on his acheivement? (2)

Taty'sEyes (2373326) | more than 2 years ago | (#37312366)

This guy accomplished something very few people will ever achieve and yet half the posts above are "what's the point", "shitty welds", "batteries suck", etc.

Fscking hell. He just built a helicopter. I say congratulations!

So... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37313100)

Wait... was it 2 minutes? Or 10 seconds?

I have an idea.....what about this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37402786)

ok, you build a hybrid blimp helicopter. Pontoons filled with helium. does two things reduces lift requirement and makes it a water safe.
done and done..... m

Check for New Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?
or Connect with...

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>