Why we don't commute with helicopters

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/08/12/why-we-dont-commute-with-hel.html


The real reason is there aren’t enough Supermans to go around.




Even small light efficient choppers routinely get under 2 mpg. And that’s not even taking into account their exorbitant maintenance costs compared to small airplanes. You know the old joke…Helicopter: 10,000 spare parts flying in close formation.


So commuting by helicopter ended because four people died?

By that logic, commuting by cars should have ended by now. Commuting by rail should have ended. Hell, if four people dying from a means of commuting logically necessitates the end of that means for commuting, then all commuting should have ended by now, including pedestrian commuting.

There must be some explanation other than this Panam rooftop disaster.


that is a fantastic old saw you have there!


don’t forget concorde kicked the same 'ol strut (ministry of silly walks)

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It’s a combination of factors. The accidents happened because operators cut corners. The fuel is expensive, but maintenance costs are the real killer. Ask any medivac or airborne cavalry mechanic. Add to that that only four people died in said accident because it failed before takeoff. That then threw into question the operator’s safety reliability, insurers took one look at the dense city these things were hopping over, and premiums undoubtedly went, please pardon the pun, through the roof.


I am the only one who sees that EVTOL as a perfect knee shredding machine? That thing looks like early 60’s flying platforms that looked as if you took one small misstep you would turn into fine minced meat.

Also, UBER but for air travel where the cost of the helicopter maintenance sole responsibility resides on the owner’s pocket? WHAT COULD GO WRONG?!


Customer confidence isn’t tied to rational risk analysis. I get a little nervous when I board an airplane, even though I know it’s safer than travel by car. I rarely get nervous when I get in the car to drive around town.

It would be interesting to know how many total injuries and fatalities were linked to services like this, versus the total number of passengers carried. Then we would have a basis for evaluating risk.


In fairness it has several key advantages. The smaller props can be spun down and up with much smaller costs, particularly if the burshless (meaning the spinning parts don’t contact each other to avoid high thermal losses to friction) electric motors are regenerative - that is to say they act as generators to recollect some of the angular momentum back into battery power - like the brakes on a Tesla or a bullet train. If one fails, the three or more remaining props can make a controlled landing. Actual EVTOL props may be enclosed by a flat ring to boost efficiency and reduce the angle at which foreign objects can strike the rotors. You could also put phased lidar arrays looking above the rotors to track any possible FO debris and automatically shut off the motors or even emergency break them (by switching the direction), to reduce damage to both the FO and the props. The air foil and/or lifting body would be much more energy efficient than a chopper, as well as being more atmospherically stable once cruising. The fuselage and wings themselves could be made of fiberglass over an aluminum reinforced frame, making them much much lighter per volume than the choppers in the video.

Now, let me be clear: I fully expect well see these innovations and more (I only touched on what’s possible) in the coming generations of drones and other aircraft. But for them to ever become urban commuter tech, they’ll need more stable batteries with a higher energy-density than we have now. That will happen - it’s more of a materials engineering problem than one of fundamental physics, and the economic, peak oil and environmental incentives for the R&D are all enormous and growing - but it’s any one’s guess which tech will get there first or how long it will actually take to reach it. The second hurdle is arguably much harder. We’re a much more safety conscious society than we were in the middle of the 20th century. The tech will have to be proven stable and able to fail softly before anyone is going to be able to economically turn it into a mass transit system. I don’t see that happening for at least another generation or two at the earliest.


Today, Ford, speaking for the auto industry, announced it would immediately discontinue all automobile production after learning of a “traffic accident” in which four people died.

“We had no idea our vehicles could be the cause of such death and devastation and we urge Americans and the world to immediately cease using our vehicles until such a time as we can make them and all roads and highways 100% safe for everyone.”

Several major cities said that all cars would henceforth be limited to a few small “parking lots” located in open country and as far away from crowded cities as possible,

Definitely a bit of overreaction to one helicopter accident. Considering more people were probably killed by muggers in NYC that same day.


Why we don’t commute with helicopters

In a twisted way, “we” are now… (or soon, commonly, will be): Drone delivery of human body organs.


Given all the hassle involved, it’s something for really special occasions only.


Huge Manitee


You can drive one ford into a parking structure every second and park them with 500mm of space between them, then get out, go to work, come back start the car without any checks at all and drive away.

You can’t do that with helicopters. Commuting only works because vehicle storage is fairly efficient, and they are easy to start and stop.

And for what it is worth I can see pilot-less taxi services using something like a big quadcopter. It just has to drop you on a landing pad and take off for the next job.


No, thanks. We’re good.


Über is like slavery: reprehensible in almost every imaginable way, but irresistibly convenient and pleasant for the customer/slave owner.


Yeah, there’s just no way that helicopters SCALE in a way that makes them anything other than a way or the really wealthy t avoid traffic.


The need for cyclic control in a helicopter makes the technology unreliable. The rotor which pushes down on the left has to push up on the right. Tail rotors are another key point of failure. Having smaller fixed rotors helps somewhat though because half of them can be made to counter-rotate, while pitch and bank is taken care of by variable thrust. It reduces your count of critical parts but it may actually be more likely to kill you in an emergency because it can’t autorotate.