Electric Hel…icopter

Did I say electric helicopters?  Yes, I did.

A funny thing happened on the way to the future- new technologies manifest themselves in unexpected applications.  Manned electric helicopters have appeared from US, French, and German teams years ago.  They’re not ready for sale yet, of course.  These are proof-of-concept builds, which need much refinement before they’re actually desirable, let alone saleable.  But that’s not my point.  I don’t actually want to buy one, but the concept has, in the engineering sense, been proven.

Electric helicopters had been considered unthinkable.  Unlike a car or even a conventional airplane, a helicopter supports itself on its engine thrust.  (A plane pulls itself forward; the wings hold it up by exploiting forward speed.)  A helicopter that could lift itself with batteries and motors seemed ridiculous, since they were heavy.  WERE.

Now, lithium batteries and high-field-density coils and magnets and compact switchgear mean manned vertical flight is possible without internal combustion.  That’s vertical flight, now; planes and cars and 2-wheelers are easier issues.  In fact, Stan Ovshinski, the “father” of the Nickel-hydride battery chemistry, felt before he died that electric cars could already be practical on NiMH batteries.  NiMHs are older, cheaper, and more rugged than lithiums, but heavier.  For non-powered-lift vehicles, traveling on a nice road, he may be right.  The Toyota RAV4 EV from 1997 had a NiMH pack, and ran fine.  Many are still on the road today, with range still acceptable by today’s standards.  The modern, lithium redesign is then even better.

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