Why Personal Air Vehicles?
(Our Future Transportation Paradigm)
by Brien A. Seeley M.D., President
NASA's vision of our future transportation system is one built around advanced small aircraft called Personal Air Vehicles (PAVs). PAVs will have the capability to quietly land and takeoff in very short distances and will be so easy to operate that, like a rental car, anyone with a driver's license can fly one. As PAVs become more popular, a wide array of 'residential' airports will be built across America --- airports whose 400 foot long runways allow them to be situated very close to one's destination doorstep.
We will be able to safely fly our PAVs nearly anywhere, anytime at more than 150 mph, and, thanks to computer-coordinated air traffic control, there will be no traffic delays and we will arrive on time. The cabin of a PAV will be as comfortable and quiet as a modern sedan and will be equipped with airbags and an automatic parachute for safety.
NASA predicts that by 2020, up to 45% of all miles traveled may be in PAVs and that they will be the preferred way to travel for distances of 75 to 800 miles. [NASA PAV study] For Personal Air Vehicles to fulfill such a role , they must become attractive to consumers by demonstrating their safety, environmental-friendliness and cost-effective advantages over cars and airliners.
The FAA's Joint Planning Development Office (JPDO) is already planning for PAVs to have a role in our future air transportation system. There is wide agreement at NASA, the National Research Council, and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) that industry and private innovators need a stimulus for the appropriate technologies to be converged into marketable PAVs. Fortunately, Congress has recognized that need and has authorized NASA to fund a cash technology prize to provide that stimulus. [NASA announcement] It is called the PAV Challenge and this essay explains why it is being called "NASA's Moonshot for Aeronautics."
PAVs: Better than by car
Gridlocked highways increasingly burden our society. Currently, the doorstep-to-doorstep average speed for cars is 35 mph. In the greater Los Angeles area, this speed is predicted to degrade to just 22 mph by year 2020. Even today in peak traffic periods a trip through the Los Angeles or San Francisco freeway system to any destination within 100 miles typically involves these low average speeds. Statistics show that, on average, cars carry only 1.3 people, even with High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes in place.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) states that 6.7 billion gallons of gasoline are wasted in traffic jams each year. This is over 20 times more gasoline than is consumed by today's entire general aviation fleet. Also, the future system of travel by PAVs expressly avoids air traffic jams and can substantially help to relieve those on our highways. Michigan's DOT program manager states that moving just " 2 to 5 percent of the vehicles to underutilized routes, . . can dramatically reduce congestion." Mass transit can help reduce congestion, but it is typically underutilized because its convenience is inherently limited in both reach and scheduling.
By unburdening our freeways with a means of travel that is 4 times faster and un-impeded by traffic jams, PAVs can help save billions of gallons of wasted fuel and unnecessary road-building. A NASA-contracted study shows that our airspace capacity can safely accommodate a several hundred fold increase in air traffic. [See RhinoCorps Study]
PAVs: Better than by airliner
Over the last five years the experience of travel by commercial airliner has degraded to unacceptable levels. This degradation crosses all aspects of airline service and is stressful and dehumanizing. On top of fears of terrorism and hi-jacking, travelers have uncertainty about whether they can even reach their flights on time. This is due in large part to the increasing gridlock on freeways and arterials that lead to major airports and to the delays of “park-n-fly” lots that are several miles from these major airports. Travelers must leave hours early to reach major air terminals on time. Even then, the flights may be canceled or delayed. Parking at the airport is very expensive and is often a walk of hundreds of yards from the terminal desks.
The terminals at most major airports are crowded and noisy. There is reluctance to check baggage for fear of losing it or having it damaged by TSA inspectors. People then injure themselves transporting heavy carry-on bags that must be lugged to the security gate and then lugged hundreds of yards further to the gate of departure.
At the security gate TSA agents exhort travelers to unload their pockets, jackets and tote-bags. Travelers must remove shoes, belts with metal buckles, and wristwatches. They must empty all pockets of small change, key fobs, and other personal items. Then they have to redress in a hurry-up, awkward fashion while an aura of fear and urgency reigns over the entire area. Once seated, coach travelers notice that the space allocated per passenger is very confining and the seat reclines back only about 10 degrees. Travelers have no control over who may be seated nearby. This may include infants that bawl the whole trip, people with drippy noses and incessant coughs that seed the cabin confines with viral-laden airborne droplets or people whose level of personal hygiene is nearly intolerable.
After landing, travelers find more delays and often have to wait for a car rental bus on a noisy, smoggy terminal sidewalk. Once that bus finally reaches one’s rental car, one often finds that the freeway toward town is gridlocked with rush-hour traffic. Upon finally reaching the solitude of one’s room, the tendency is to flop down on the bed and await the next day. However, most people feel so dirty that they need to take a shower first.
A word about private jets
The emergence of the Very Light Jet (VLJ) will not be a substitute for PAVs. The VLJ is aimed at the 'high-end' air taxi and corporate demographic and is for longer trips where its design cruising altitudes of over 30,000 feet can be utilized. The VLJ's high noise levels and high wing-loading make it a vehicle unsuitable for operation from the PAV's short residential airfields. The expected price of VLJs, being about 10 times that of a PAV, and the mixing of VLJs with airliners above 30,000 feet limits the increase in traffic volume that they can provide.
Mobility freedom: Your Personal Air Vehicle (PAV)
Now, imagine living in a community in which you can drive or even walk less than 1 mile to a very small residential airfield where you can park just 30 feet from your PAV. Anyone with a driver's license can legally fly a PAV after completing a simplified training akin to "driver's ed." The PAV has from 2 to 6 comfortable seats and offers a quiet, air-conditioned cabin. You load your baggage into its spacious baggage area knowing that no one but you will handle it.
You climb in and sit in a chaise-lounge like s seat with an excellent field of view. You can take along your nail-clipper, pocket knife, knitting needles or any other personal items that the TSA would not allow you to take on an airliner. PAVs remove the fear and anxiety about terrorists. You may also bring along and consume any snack or food you prefer, and you and your passengers may operate any electronic or other personal audio or visual entertainment devices that you enjoy.
After you perform a brief pre-flight inspection, you climb in your PAV and buckle up. You are guided through a 20 second checklist and select your destination from the menu on the PAV's flight computer. The flight computer's display is a daylight-readable flat-panel which is directly in front of the pilot and accepts touch-screen commands.
You start the engine just as you would in a car. The flight computer displays your position and guides you to taxi a short distance to the runway for departure. It shows the distance and route to your destination along with estimated time enroute. You take off in your PAV within 10 minutes of arriving at the airport and speed directly to your destination at 150-200 mph. Though the computer displays other air traffic, there are no traffic jams.
Your PAV cruises at altitudes below 12,000 feet where there is no need for pressurization or oxygen masks and well below where airliners cruise. Your flight path consists of your own unique "Highway In The Sky" (HITS) shown as a virtual tunnel depicted on the computer display through which you or the autopilot will fly your PAV. Your HITS route is created and integrated automatically by a computerized air traffic control system that coordinates traffic avoidance and sequencing to assure your PAV a safe route without traffic delays. You may elect to allow destination-related "billboards" to appear along your HITS to alert you to tourist attractions, shows, hotels, rental car reservations or re-fueling appointments. These "billboards" are interactive, and your touch-screen allows you to save them for later reference or to make reservations in advance as you fly along.
Operating your PAV has been designed to be intuitive, very much like your automobile. Its control system has a built-in computerized "brain" that prevents any pilot from making a hazardous maneuver. Like a horse, the PAV's "brain" will refuse to do something to cause itself harm. A highly capable autopilot is easily set to fly the selected route to your destination. You may manually deviate from this route, if desired, by selecting from a menu of alternative routes or destinations.
Traveling in your PAV is as safe and economical as going in your family sedan, but it is about 3 to 4 times faster, doorstep-to-doorstep. PAVs can achieve up to 70 MPG at over 150 mph and save fuel because they do not get stuck in traffic. On-demand travel by PAV extends one-day round-trips to places unreachable by car or airliner.
PAVs are designed to land at small airports in residential areas. After landing, if your PAV is "roadable," you quickly fold its wings. Then you drive it off the airport and onto the streets to your destination. If your PAV is not "roadable", then you park it within 150 feet of the airfield's pilot lounge and rental car desk. From there, you can choose to walk, ride one of the courtesy bicycles, or rent one of the available electric golf carts to reach your destination. If your destination is beyond golf-cart range, you would have used your flight computer's touch-screen on one of the car rental "billboards" along your HITS to prearrange for a rental car to be waiting for you right outside the lounge. Within a few minutes the un-congested residential streets deliver you to your nearby destination. And there is Grandma waiting for you with a freshly baked pie! In one hour your PAV has completed a trip that used to take over 4 hours by car or airliner.
In summary, PAVs will save time and offer people mobility freedom, more definite arrival times, privacy and comfort that cars and airliners cannot rival. PAVs will transform our transportation system from one of gridlocked freeways and wasteful delays in airline travel to one that enhances personal mobility for all. The additional societal benefits of job growth, technologic innovations that help us move toward alternative fuels and the strengthening of America's position as a world leader in aerospace technology are why NASA's PAV Challenge Competition deserves your support. [Click here to donate]
Other reasons to support the PAV Challenge:
- The societal cost of building roads is enormous and consumes land that could otherwise be used for agriculture. Referring to our need for bio-fuels, Larry Russo of the Department of Energy (DOE) states, "Agriculture in the 21st century will become our oil wells.”**
- Road and pavement building contributes to global warming by absorbing more heat into the earth.
- LOSS OF AIRPORTS:: General Aviation News: March 24, 2006: In 1973, there were 7,000 GA public use airports. Today there are 5,000.
- USA has 618,000 registered pilots, whose training costs average 50 hours at $150/hr or $7500.
- PAVs will pioneer technologies with other uses to become a substrate for new alternative fuel development.
- George Sterzinger, Executive Director of the Renewable Energy Policy Project in Washington DC, states in the May 24, 2006 Wall Street Journal Letters to the Editor, that "... thermal inputs of 35,000 BTUs are needed to produce one gallon of ethanol containing about 82,000 BTUs of energy." A new gasification process can reduce that improve the environmental footprint of this thermo-chemical process and lower the cost of ethanol.
- As part of the PAV Challenge, the CAFE Foundation will develop a Runway in The Sky (RITS) system that enhances flying safety
- A stewarding body is needed to conduct the annual PAV Challenge to promote and accurately measure PAV performance.
- Moving maps of synthetic vision have huge markets in both PAVs and automobiles.
** Science News, Oct. 1, 2005, Vol 168.