Just about exactly 103 years ago, Nikola Tesla said: “I am now planning aerial machines devoid of sustaining planes, ailerons, propellers, and other external attachments, which will be capable of immense speeds”. Tesla ran out of money and wasn’t able to produce his craft but it now appears that maybe, just maybe, that his airplane– certainly by other means – may be on the not too distant horizon.
And the first terrestrial application will probably be a general aviation aircraft – at least, that is what the inventor of a radical new engine is saying.
Now this is a long shot – but that’s what thinking about the future involves. And everyone doesn’t agree about it. That too is integral to thinking about potential breakthroughs. But if this one works – and NASA has duplicated the basic concept – then we could be seeing the early indicators of the emergence of a new world
This one is different (like I said) because the EmDrive doesn’t use any traditional fuel. It generates thrust by the reaction of electromagnetic fields in a shaped cavity. You’ve got to generate electricity, for sure, but after that there are no moving parts. The electricity is converted directly into thrust.
Under the headline NASA’s impossible warp EmDrive proves possible: accelerates beams faster than light in a void, ElectronicProducts.com said: “Last summer, NASA made international headlines after finally testing British scientist Roger Shawyer’s ludicrous EmDrive, otherwise known as “the impossible engine,” and determining that the engine produced a minute level of thrust without any propellant. This is major, because it goes against the very laws of physics as defined by Newton’s third law, that is, that every action has an opposite and equal reaction; hence the nickname “the impossible engine.” “Nearly eight months later, Paul March, an engineer at NASA Eagleworks, reported in a thread on NASASpaceFlight.com (a website devoted to the engineering side of space exploration) that NASA has successfully tested the EmDrive in a vacuum and demonstrated that laser beams fired through the EmDrive’s resonance chamber exhibited fluctuations in velocity, with some beams appearing to surpass the speed of light.”
Now that should get you to the stars . . . or at least Mars. Shawyer thinks Mars is just a couple day flight with his engines.
NASA EmDrive test device
Shawyer says the first terrestrial applications will probably be for general aviation vehicles. The EmDrive website elaborates:
“The ultimate spin-off from space technology will occur when second generation lift engines are employed in terrestrial transport applications. Typically 3 tonnes of lift could be obtained from 1kW of microwave power. Liquid hydrogen would be used for cooling the lift engine and for powering the auxiliary engines. Thus the essential low cost, non-polluting components for large scale utilization are readily achievable. A future low energy transport infrastructure, no longer dependent on wings and wheels would now seem possible.”
Did you follow that? They say 6,000 pounds of lift could be generated by about the equivalent of 1.4 horsepower of generation power. That would change things.
Here’s an interesting interview with the inventor. Click on the picture below to watch it.
So you’ve got great new engines – now, what does the rest of the craft look like?
In the last couple of months a new breakthrough in the design of structures has been announced that has direct applications to future airframe construction. As in the case of the EmDrive, this invention is showing up in another sector – this time automobiles – but you don’t have to be a futurist to see that it could certainly be coming our way.
Here’s the picture that tells the story.
This handsome beast comes from Divergent Microfactories and is interesting by itself (700 HP // 0-60 IN 2.2 SEC // 1,400 LBS).
But the way that they have designed and built this car points directly toward the GA market – starting particularly with experimental airframes. They’ve designed a chassis that is 1/10th the weight of that in a conventionally made car and costs about 10% of a steel one.
Here’s a shot from their website that shows the 3D printed aluminum “nodes” that, coupled with carbon fiber tubes makes a frame (in about 30 minutes), that is stronger than steel ones.
Take a look at this video. The whole chassis is in that bag!
So, one way or another we’re on our way to a revolution . . . and it may be sooner than we think.
If you like this kind of stuff, you might find the talk that I’ll be giving on the future of aviation at NBAA this fall of interest. Come by and say hi if you’re there.