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January 2007 edition

Computer driven onboard systems will make piloting skills redundant

By Paul Moller

Fixed wing aircraft (FWA) are usually inherently stable with the four forces that act on an aircraft in flight, lift, weight, thrust, and drag, in balance. The motion of the aircraft through the air depends on the relative size of the various forces and the orientation of the aircraft. For an aircraft in cruise, the four forces are balanced, and the aircraft moves at a constant forward velocity and altitude.

Conventional FWA use their engines to provide thrust to move them forward until their wings produce sufficient lift to keep them airborne. The Skycar can lift off vertically by changing the angle of thrust its engines produce. It uses a combination of rotating nacelles and vanes that further deflect airflow exiting from the nacelle to redirect the thrust. The ability to change the angle of the thrust is called thrust vectoring, or vectored thrust.

During a typical take off the Skycar uses its vectored thrust to lift the vehicle with little to no forward motion. As the aircraft rises and clears the immediate area’s obstacles, the pilot rotates the vehicle to an appropriate heading then moves off in that direction by dropping the nose of the aircraft to gradually increase forward speed, similar to a helicopter.

As forward speed picks up, lift is generated by the aerodynamic surfaces of the aircraft and less lift is needed from vectored thrust. At forward speeds of 80 mph or so there is sufficient lift from the Skycar’s wings to level out the nose and start retracting the de....

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