'Pocket airports' would link neighborhoods by air
A little over a year ago, we told you about NASA’s Green Flight Challenge that is offering US$1.6 million in production funds to the winning design for a for low-cost, quiet, short take-off personal aircraft, that require little if any fossil fuel. The competition, to be decided next July, is being run by NASA’s light-aircraft partner CAFE (Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency), which envisions the resulting Suburban Air Vehicles (SAVs) taking off and landing at small neighborhood “pocket airports.” At last week’s Future of Electric Vehicles conference, CAFE president Dr. Brien Seeley outlined just how those airports would work.
“The shocking news is, that after a full century of flight, aviation still fails to fulfill the fundamental purpose of moving people fast without need of roads,” he began. “We now believe that green technology can solve this.”
According to Seeley, by the time travelers have made their way by ground to their city’s one main airport, and then traveled again by ground from the destination airport to their final destination point, the speed with which the waiting airliner will get them there has been negated. The solution, he explained, is 2 to 4-passenger SAVs that could ferry people between the main airports and conveniently-located pocket airports.
The Green Flight Challenge, he explained, is just the first step in NASA’s plan to develop a new aviation infrastructure, in which quiet, auto-piloted aircraft would deliver people and goods on a point-to-point basis, within communities. In order to qualify for the prize, planes will have to get at least 200 mpg (1.18 L/100km), go at least 100 mph (161 kph), emit no more than 78 decibels from a 250-foot (76-meter) distance, and have a take-off distance, clearing a 50-foot obstacle, of less than 2,000 feet (or a 15-meter obstacle at 610 meters).
For its pocket airports concept, however, CAFE would like to see those requirements ultimately taken even further – Seeley said that his group envisions SAVs that get well over 200 mpg, cruise at over 120 mph (193 kph), emit less than 60 dBA from 125 feet (38 meters), and have the ability to take off in a distance of under 100 feet (30.5 meters). Safety would also be a major consideration.
“This is what the SAV would offer you: a fast vehicle with an open road and no traffic,” he said. “The pathway you get through the sky is de-conflicted, so there’s no one else on that road, and you go directly where you want to go.” The various planes’ flightpaths would be coordinated by a central control system, to keep them from flying into one another, and each SAV would be equipped with a parachute.
The basic single-runway pocket airports would be no larger than two acres (0.8 hectares) in size, and located in greenbelts just outside major urban areas. They would be capable of 120 operations per hour, as rows of SAVs/air taxis would wait for their turn to take off, one going every 30 seconds. CAFE also has designs for a 4-acre (1.6-hectare) airport that would have three runways arranged in a triangle, that would be capable of 260 operations per hour, plus an 8-acre (3.2-hectare) version with two end-to-end runways (with a large space in between them), and a 12-acre (4.8-hectare) version with two sets of the end-to-end runways and parking for 320 ground vehicles.
The airports would require SAVs to be capable of a very steep take-off, as the planes would have to be at least 150 feet (46 meters) in the air by the time they cleared the airport’s boundaries – “high enough to not be heard by the back yard barbecuers in the residences nearby.”
Development of such vehicles won’t happen overnight, needless to say. Once the first Green Flight Challenge is over, CAFE would like to see a second one take place in 2013, that would award US$2 million for the development of ultra-quiet, ultra-short-runway SAVs, followed by a third one in 2015, that would offer up US$2.35 million to whoever is able to make the winner of Challenge #2 autonomous.
“The gridlock we face now is going to get worse,” Seeley stated, citing research into congestion on the world’s roads. “This is a form of insanity... We need to travel in 3D.”
All images courtesy Dr. Brien Seeley
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Autonomous cars will win this match hands down. Simply because existing infrastructure can be used and taking the human out of the circuit will improve safety to the point that driving will become the safest way to travel, by far. Apart from that, pedestrians and cyclists will benefit from the safety factor inherent to computer controlled vehicles. Thirdly capacity of existing infrastructure will increase enormously. And last but not least, the real reason autonomous cars will win is that they, like now will park in front of your door or very close. No need to get out, and you can read, work, or just sleep on the way to work.
A pity, I love to fly..
What would be very interesting would be if it would be possible to launch these from the tops of buildings downtown out to satellite airports for easier travel in that direction. Maybe the roofs of some larger buildings or parking structures could be airports as well for landing into the city.
Secondly, make them personal devices so that everyone can have their own. Not many people want to ride in a bus or fly in an airplane, and the same amount of people will want to do it in these SAVs. No one likes being crammed into anything like cattle.
We should be putting scanners on all congressmen and other politicians, and getting rid (i.e. Guantanamo groping [just kidding, let\'s not stoop to their low level]) of any who are involved in that continued conspiracy to establish a world police state.
The track provides both power and guidance and therefore can be automated to provide the services envisioned by those pocket airports in the article.
Since it \"flies\" approx 40 ft in the air, it would not interfere with existing ground transport systems.
The infrastructure for air traffic control, as currently deployed, does not scale to SAVs in the volume hypothesized. However, a scalable approach could be found in a combination of automation in the aircraft and in control systems, and in the introduction of novel inflight management tools such as the \"Highway in the Sky\" guidance system. Synthetic vision and enhanced vision systems would be of great benefit both to current and future aviation endeavors.
In the long run, it\'s going to take some combination of surface transportation enhancement and aviation enhancement to get us out of the gridlock we currently \"emjoy\". If SAVs can be made that meet the fuel efficiency and noise limitations proposed, at a cost that\'s even marginally affordable, I see some degree of broad adoption. I can also envision light aircraft evolution toward the SAV design goals, but probably starting with the Experimental Aircraft Association. Come on Oshkosh, show us your stuff!
PS Will Sterling Allan please put cork in it. That war is over.