On Visualizing a Peacekeeper Drive
By Bob Lee (a fan) I first met Ricky Sides online when he asked for advice on realistically portraying a solution to a military problem in one of his novels. I was impressed by his desire to thoroughly research issues instead of just making things up. And I was intrigued by the peacekeepers themselves. The novels reminded me of Dale Brown’s “Flight of the Old Dog” where normal people use their wits to employ futuristic as well as mundane technology in a realistic way to defeat the “bad guys”.
I also wanted to read about the Peacekeeper itself. Who wouldn’t want to fly through the air like the Jetsons, or perhaps like John Carter of Mars, plying the thin air of a dying planet in a flyer kept aloft by the discovery of Martian scientists of the 8th ray of propulsion?
But I had a real problem with the whole idea of the Peacekeeper being something we could invent today. I have a degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from an Ivy League school, and while there I took some advanced Physics courses. Two major issues with the Peacekeeper drive kept nagging at me.
First, all electromagnetism follows the “inverse square law” where the strength of the field drops off as the square of the distance. So, if you look at a light bulb from 2 feet, it is 2x2 or 4 times fainter than at 1 foot. From 10 feet, the bulb is 10x10 or 100 times fainter. In book 1, where the Peacekeeper flies at 30 feet, the engines would need to generate enough power to lift its own weight by a factor of 30x30 or 900 times. In book 2, when the Peacekeeper drive is improved by Pol, it is able to fly at 200 feet. This meant that the drive would have to put out the power of 40,000 times its own weight! This was too much to be believed as doable with our currently technology.
Now that issue just addressed lift. The second issue I worried over was how the Peacekeeper drive could provide the thrust to go forward. You could imagine that they pointed the drive straight down to hover, and pointed the drive at an angle backwards to go forward. However, now the waves from the drive, traveling at an angle, would have to travel much further to reach the ground, dissipating the power available by the inverse square law. The further they pointed it back in order to go faster, the less thrust it generated! Also, when pushing at an angle, some of the power would go into lift, and some into forward thrust. So to go faster, they would have to point the drive further and further towards the rear, leaving less and less power for lift. Yet all of the books tell us that the Peacekeeper can achieve maximum height AND maximum speed at the same time. How could it realistically do this? I was stymied.
Well, there was one other problem that I did not worry about and that I took on faith. Somehow the electromagnetic drive could repulse the electrons on the ground to provide propulsion and thrust. But I felt that that should have been the only thing I had to take on faith in a realistic novel.
I wracked my brain thinking of how I could come to accept the Peacekeeper drive, and kept worrying at it like a dog chewing on a bone. Then, Eureka -- I found it! Pol and the inventors needed two breakthrough inventions.
The first breakthrough would be to create a drive that mimicked how lasers worked. Lasers, remarkably, do NOT drop off as the inverse square law; they slowly spread out due to what is called diffraction. Rather than using some complicated diffraction formula, what if we just used a similar concept and assumed that the drive spread out at an angle of only one degree? A quick calculation using high school geometry showed me that at 200 feet, the Peacekeeper would only need to generate enough lift to overcome three times its own weight. Now that was within the realm of possibility! Also, when Pol improved the drive in book 2 to go from 30 feet height maximum to 200 feet, he improved the focus of the drive from spreading out by an inefficient 7 degrees to spreading out by only 1 degree. He didn’t have to improve the power of the drives at all; he only needed to improve the focusing of the beam!
The second breakthrough that they would have needed to invent is that, instead of the drive pointing backwards to generate thrust, the field that it generated would be a rotating electromagnetic field that went around in an oval like a tank tread or bicycle chain. Imagine that the drive in the Peacekeeper is like the pedals of a bicycle. The field it generates is like a chain that goes down from the Peacekeeper to the ground, then along the ground backwards, and then back up to the drive. And since the field goes along the ground, it is like a tank tread pushing on the ground generating forward thrust! And you only need to twist the field sideways to change your direction.
I came up with two terms for the two effects of the engine. ‘Engine Lift Thrust’ was how hard the engine pushed the chain down towards the ground, thus providing lift. The turning of the bicycle chain field was the ‘Engine Forward Thrust Cycle’. The Peacekeeper pilots would have to have a separate control for these two thrusts, or a single control where they input height and speed which the computer would then translate into the two thrust elements.
The controls would work something like this. Say you set the dials or the computer determined to use 50% power for lift so that you flew at lower than maximum height. Then, you can cycle the forward thrust field up to 2 times to get 2 x 50% or 100% of your power applied to forward thrust. If you are at 25% lift power, then you can cycle your electronic tread at 4 times or 400% so that you can get maximum forward speed. But note that the max engine lift thrust percent times the max forward thrust cycle percent cannot go over 100%. There is no going at 100% power AND 500% forward cycle for example -- the engine would blow.
So there you have it. Picture the field generated by the Peacekeeper drive as a bicycle chain going down to the ground. How hard the drive pushes the chain straight down determines how high you go, and since the field only spreads out similar to a laser beam, it doesn’t dissipate much the higher you go, making the power requirements reasonable. The field also goes around in a circle to provide traction along the ground. There is a maximum speed because the engine can only put out 100% power in total, so just like gears on a bicycle, depending on which gear you use determines how fast around your feet can go on the pedals, and you can only go so fast around depending on the power of your legs.
Some of the ramifications of this are quite interesting. As you read the novels, you’ll see a progression in how the peacekeepers discover new uses for the capabilities of the drive. It is not unlike Einstein after he created his Theory of Relativity. There followed many new discoveries and ideas, such as gravitational lensing, time dilation, black holes, and even new possibilities like worm holes and time travel that followed long after the theory’s creation, all by new applications of the logic of the theory. So also in my collaboration with Ricky on the ramifications of these two simple ideas, I think you’ll see many more novels in the peacekeeper saga that unveil surprising new aspects of this ever fascinating technology. Good luck, and good hunting to the peacekeepers!
For the mathematically minded - calculating the Peacekeeper drive
1) Draw a flying saucer with an oval bottom, representing the Peacekeeper.
2) Give it a radius of r = 5 feet. This is the engine’s drive pointing down. The power of the drive is spread out by Pi times r squared or 25 Pi or 78.5.
3) Now draw a vertical line down from each end of the Peacekeeper so that you have a cylinder. The lines going down are 200 feet (the height of the Peacekeeper). The circle at the bottom (ground) has a radius of 5 feet.
4) Draw another line down from the left of the Peacekeeper and angled slightly to the left. Mark that angle as 1 degree. Where the left line (a diagonal) hits the ground, complete the triangle with a horizontal line and that leg is “delta r”.
5) By trigonometry, Tangent of 1 degree = “delta r” divided by 200. So delta r = 200 Tan 1. Delta r = 3.5 feet.
6) So the drive, spreading out by 1 degree on each side, creates a circle on the ground that has a radius of 5+3.5 feet or 8.5 feet.
7) Thus the area of the circle on the ground is Pi times 8.5 squared = 227
8) The ratio of the new circle’s area on the ground compared to the starting circle area (step 2) = 227/78.5 = 2.9
9) So the drive dissipates by about a factor of 3 going down from 200 feet.
Note: versus an inverse square law where 200x200 = 40,000 dissipation
Pol Responds: Hello,
My good friend, Mr. Bob Lee, is quite close to discovering all the secrets of the peacekeeper drive technology. The one thing that Bob has yet to discover is what happens to the Huxley alloy when it is exposed to the electromagnetic drive field. The field reacts with the alloy as a sort of supercharger that aids in providing both lift and forward momentum. In layman's terms, the drives generate additional power that the hull feeds back into the drive system. This reaction cannot add to the battery power, because the energy is channeled back into the field being generated. It never reaches the battery because it is contained outside the hull.
Now that my friend has the missing key, I’ll let him describe the math if he’s so inclined. I wanted to do so myself, but Jim is glaring at me.
Bob, you’ve intuitively gotten so much right that I couldn’t resist giving you the key to complete comprehension. You’ve earned the right to know the truth.
Bob Lee Responds: Dear Mr. Bleakman:
Ah, most excellent, and thank you for the information! It seems that I also missed explaining a few other discrepancies, which were pointed out by my friend and author Mr. Ricky Sides. Apparently in book 4, it was explained that the emitter arrays needed to be angled to provide push and guidance. And in both books 4 and 7, the beam is described as spreading out over water, but at increased altitude, the beam is widened sufficiently so that it is possible to maintain stable flight using less energy than is required closer to the surface.
I think I can reconcile these for the readers as follows. Since the beam spreads out by only 1 degree (after you improved the drive to allow higher flight), the new beam was now too narrow for a firm foundation at low altitudes. Thus, you ALSO needed to send a portion of the beam out angled to the sides, front and back to provide stability. Readers can think of them like outriggers. When you provided these extra beams at low altitude, pointing out at an angle, they also provided push as you would expect. However, these extra beams used up energy. At higher altitudes, with the main beam spreading out more, you did not need these “outrigger beams” and so the drive is more efficient.
Now that I have the secret, if only I had some of that wonderful alloy -- Jetsons here I come!
Mr. Bob Lee