Ever since the human race saw birds gliding effortlessly through the air, we have been obsessed with trying to accomplish the same feat. Now, with a little help from NASA, such technology may not be very far away.
Puffin Aircraft In Flight
Mark Moore, an aerospace engineer employed by NASA, is the mastermind behind the Puffin personal electric aircraft. His design calls for a fuselage that measures 12 feet long connected to a pair of wings with a total span of 14.5 feet. Power would come from two 60 horsepower electric motors mounted on the wings; with each able to provide enough energy to land safely if the other should fail.
Power for the electric motors would be stored in a battery stack, likely Lithium-Ion, and provide enough energy to propel the 400lb aircraft about 50 miles. Top speed is estimated to be around the 150mph mark.
Of particular interest is the ability of the Puffin to take off and land vertically, not unlike the "Harrier Jump Jet." The tailfin splits into four "legs" that act as landing gear and the whole aircraft basically stands upright. Once the pilot is safely inside, the Puffin will launch like a helicopter and then tilt forward to gain airspeed. Once fully horizontal, the wings will provide all the lift necessary.
When it comes time to land, the Puffin will begin to stand vertically again, which will slow it down dramatically. The tailfin will split into landing gear once again and a helicopter like landing will bring the pilot back to earth.
Puffin Aircraft Vertical Take-Off
So, the only question remaining is: Why the name "Puffin?" According to Mr. Moore, it is due to the similarities between his aircraft and the bird for which it was named. When observed on the ground, the Puffin doesn't look like it would be able to fly. Its wings are short and require nearly constant flapping to stay aloft. Similarly, the Puffin aircraft uses a very short wingspan and appears unable to fly.
NASA is very interested in the design and is planning to build a remote controlled model, about one third scale, to test the flight characteristics of the aircraft. They are paying particular attention to the ability to transition from vertical take-off to full speed flight.