Semi-dirigible, inflatable helicopters
by Win Wenger, Ph.D.
Think about this the next time you are stuck in rush-hour traffic:wouldn't you just love to lift up over all those glaring red tail lights and go straight over to your destination?
Here are three things to consider:
1. Semi-dirigible, easy-to-drive, simplified, safe and economical, inflatable helicopters.
The invention: semi-dirigible helicopters
Overlooked thus far only because we think in categories instead of realistically: Is it a helicopter, or is it "something else"? Does it fly, or does it, um, well, fly? Also in the combat missions and air rescue roles which we have let define the category "helicopter," we wanted speed and power. In those capacities, dirigible characteristics would only be in the way.
The basic engineering would not be difficult. In effect, wrap inflatable panels as your fuselage around the frame of the helicopter. Inflate them with helium to give partial lift. Balance off the weight of the frame in such a way that you don't need the attitude controls which make the flying of conventional helicopters such a balancing act. Provide a basic tilt control on a standby emergency basis, default-position standard balance, usually never engagedautomatically pumping lifting-gas from one side to the other and/or front and back.) Most of the lifting panels will run along the upper sides of your frame. You want your weight down and your support up, like a child's knock-me-down toy which keeps righting itself.
The lifting-gas can be pumped back into pressurized tanks or canisters when the copter is going to be on the ground for a while. That way you don't have to even tether the thing to keep it from blowing away.
With controls simplified, you wouldn't need the high level of skills, training, and multiple safety overrides which make helicopter flight such an expensive process today. With attitude (as distinct from altitude) controls not needed, virtually everything could be on one computer joystick or, more reassuringly for the typical driver, one automobile-like steering wheel with not only left-right but forward-back for speed. Or use the accelerator/brake pedal arrangement of a car. Up and down on the steering wheel to control, well, up and down. Fuel, temperature and other gauges would give not only direct readings but run with idiot lightsgreen = okay, yellow = caution, red = DO something! Also with a "ping-hum" auditory signal when going into the yellow and a light continuous pingingenough to be heard, not so loud as to panic the driverwhen into the red. The objective of all of this is to make the diricopter easier to drive than the ubiquitous family carand a lot safer.
With mostnot quite allof the weight of the diricopter and its load carried by lifting helium, you would not need the gas-guzzler powerful engine which also makes helicopter flight such an expensive process today. Practically a lawn-mower engine would suffice.
Worry about style and looks later. The first-generation diricoptersespecially those which were adaptations from all those dead helicopters rotting in the Mojavewould stop looking like grasshoppers and start looking more like bumblebees or flying beetles. Design engineers and aerodynamicists can go to work to pretty up later generations of the diricopter.
Adaptable resources available to the
first generation of Diricopters
I am given to understand that the main reason that most of those rotting 40,000+ military helicopters in the Mojave aren't harvested for parts is that there isn't that much current demand for parts! Only a few can afford to operate copters under current conditions. Also, it would cost more to harvest them than it does to leave them there rotting, keeping happy the bureaucrats and inventory specialists.
So if an enterprise or enterprises were put together for this purpose, arranging to take over for certified civilian purpose and rehabilitate a few thousand of these copters should be relatively easy and inexpensive. Not guaranteed so, of course, because politics may enter here in making such arrangements.
An enterprise or enterprises could engineer the adaptations and rehabilitation of several specific types of these abandoned helicopters, then operate directly by franchise, or sell to, enterprises in each major city which would provide the commuting service. There are plenty of people who would pay the $10 or $20 per flight to get immediately to where they want to go instead of wasting hour after hour drinking in exhaust fumes on the clogged roadways. My guess is that even with relatively inefficient first-generation diricopters, many commuting services could turn a modest profit from those prices.
More efficient second-generation diricopters should provide an excellent competitive venue for further developments in the commuter service, and expand into the "company copter" market.
Third-generation diricopters should expand into the family car market, with a hugely differential impact on some real estate values.
It would seem that there are some significant opportunities in this context for someone to create new wealth, if anyone reading this has some initiative.
Family car of the future
By the time of that third-generation and after, these semi-dirigible helicopters have been seen in several various futures as the "family car." Low-flying, slow, light, can't fall, worst it can do is only to drift if its power fails; following radar/radio beacons like roads; low-powered and fuel efficient. Three dimensions laned instead of two means a few human generations before traffic gets to be a problem again, and maybe by then we'll have worked out a very different way altogether of getting back and forth.
No more traffic problems: just mount another beacon-channel to fly through between widely spaced poles some or many miles apart. Safety overrides force drift-down with distress beacon if a flyer leaves the pre-programmed channel or if power fails. Wind and storm warning provisions can be built into the override system.
If a flyer drifts down onto water, it will float indefinitely. Nearly buoyant in the air,
it will be very buoyant in the water. Emergency anchors and anchor for normal tethering are used when onsite. Fuselage panels filled with lifting gas or helium are deflated and pumped
back into pressurized canisters for longer-term parking.
Potential for profits
Profitable for someone to provide: a simple, simple, simple system which lets people get on with what they need to be doing.
When, after 40 years of overlooking it(!), people back here in the U.S. finally picked up Europe's nickel-cadmium battery, a pretty penny got turned and new branches of industry developed. Surely the diricopter, yet another one of our inventions which are exercises in the obvious, and which was as of August 1998 released into public domain (on the Hot Rod Your Head website).... surely this diricopter is potentially a greater profit-maker for someone than was the likewise overlooked nickel-cadmium battery?
Newsflash!! About 20% of the UFO sightings the past five years (as of August 2001) are due to a variety of new secret military aircraft, some of which like the inflatable helicopter proposed here are semi-dirigible! Read more about it in this addendum,
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