Personal Air Vehicle Concept Summary
Q: Why must we transform our transportation system with personal air travel?
A: Consider the stress involved everyday in airline travel and rush hour traffic. Even high mileage and electric hybrid cars waste time and fuel in surface gridlock.
The average doorstep to doorstep trip speed for automobiles is just 35 mph and for airliners is just 55 mph on trips under 250 miles. Recent delays caused by anti-terrorism security inspections reduce this speed even further. Traffic jams in the U.S. cost $78 Billion in year 2004, wasting 6.7 Billion gallons of fuel. These figures and the stress and pollution they entail worsen each year. Building new freeway lanes or light railway lines costs about $20 Million per mile and do not solve the fundamental problem.
Q: How will PAVs “transform” the way we travel?
A: For the 21st Century, single-file surface travel will be transformed by our getting off the ground and into the air. NASA predicts that up to 45% of all future miles traveled may be in energy efficient PAVs using computer created “Highways in the Sky” that are immune to gridlock. A system of high-speed PAV “Highways” would save enormous amounts of time and fuel by dynamically offering as many “freeway lanes” as needed in any desired direction. Easy-to-fly, quiet PAVs would relieve traffic at large hub airports and the highways around them by using widely distributed small airports with runways less than 300 feet long. Such small airports would be far less costly to build than mass transit systems and provide much better “last mile” proximity to destination.
Q: Won't PAVs with fully electronic flight decks take all the fun out of flying?
A: As PAVs become more capable, the skills and workload required from the pilot will be lessened, making flying easier and safer. Statistics show that personal flying can actually be safer than airline flying if a Certificated Flight Instructor (CFI) accompanies the pilot. NASA has shown that computer technology can provide PAVs with flight decks that have an “eCFI” or electronic pilot assistant that performs many of the functions of a CFI, while providing near all-weather capability and utility.
Even with eCFI and advanced flight decks, it is important that the pilot stay engaged in the task of flying. Experts are already examining ways to keep pilots engaged, if not entertained, in the act of flying.
As our nation's airspace becomes much more heavily utilized by PAVs for transportation, we may expect that old-fashioned recreational, sport and aerobatic flying will be relegated to separate airspace dedicated to those purposes.
Q: What are the demographics of U.S. air travel?
A: 98% of the U.S. population lives within 20 miles of at least one public use airport and yet 95% of commercial air traffic uses only 30 of our nation’s 5,000 airports. A study on airspace capacity contracted by NASA shows that our skies can accommodate at least 700 times more aircraft than are flying today.
FAA Administrator Marion Blakey admits that the existing human-operated Air Traffic Control (ATC) system cannot expand enough to meet the projected future growth in commercial air traffic. FAA and the Joint Planning and Development Office are already planning FAA’s Next Generation Air Transportation System (NGATS) to be an automated system that provides each aircraft its own traffic-free, computer-coordinated “Highway In The Sky.”
Q: What key capabilities are essential to popularize Personal Air Vehicles (PAVs)?
A: NASA’s research shows that, above all, PAVs must be much quieter than today’s small aircraft. They must also be safe, very easy to fly in nearly all weather, comfortable, fuel efficient and able to take off and land on very short runways. The technologies necessary for such capabilities exist today but have not been integrated into one vehicle.
Q: How will the PAV Challenge bring forth vehicles with such full capabilities?
A: The PAV Challenge is founded upon two proven principles: (1) Competition improves the breed. (2) Technology prizes induce large private investments that produce major breakthroughs which are otherwise decades away. The PAV Challenge is expressly designed by NASA and CAFE to be a pentathlon event that rewards combined excellence in ALL of the key capabilities mentioned above. The National Research Council has officially endorsed the PAV Challenge.
Q: Has there been any interest from teams wishing to compete in the PAV Challenge?
A: Yes. Global interest has been received from these sectors: major aerospace companies, foreign countries, accomplished innovators from the Experimental Aircraft Association, and domestic general aviation manufacturers. Many have hinted that they have exciting new vehicles under wraps that are intended for the PAV Challenge. A spectacular array of vehicles is anticipated.
Q: How will “synthetic vision” revolutionize personal flying?
A: Synthetic vision depicts a virtual “Highway In The Sky” for the pilot to follow. It does this by combining information from an on-board terrain database with real-time GPS position. By displaying the virtual 3 dimensional vista of the terrain over which the pilot is flying, synthetic vision lets pilots see through clouds and enables nearly all-weather travel. This capability hugely expands the usefulness of PAVs.
Q: How can non-pilots fly PAVs safely without extensive flight training?
A: Greatly simplified flight training for PAVs will be made possible by standardization, simplified controls and NASA’s Naturalistic Flight Deck (NFD). The NFD uses computers and on-board sensors to make the PAV an intelligent vehicle with “horse-sense.” NFD sensors augment the pilot’s capabilities with engine and situational awareness that pre-empt hazards before they occur. Fully-developed, intelligent PAVs will refuse to perform a maneuver that is unsafe or illegal and will fail-safe to an automatic pilot and/or vehicle parachute if necessary. The NFD will be like having a highly trained flight instructor on board at all times.
The NFD can be nicknamed “the electronic Certificated Flight Instructor” or 'eCFI.' The importance of the eCFI is emphasized by the statistic that flights with CFIs aboard have the lowest accident rate of all, even lower than airline flights.
Q: How do PAVs differ from Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) and Very Light Jets (VLJ)?
A: PAVs fill the great middle segment between sport/recreational aircraft and the high-end VLJ. PAVs will be much less expensive than VLJs, will land shorter, be quieter and be more fuel efficient. Compared to LSAs, PAVs will have longer range and will be quieter, safer, more comfortable, faster and easier to fly.