The SATS Expo -- The Future, In Review...

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Dreaming Big In Danville

Making air taxi service a reality from the nation's 5000-plus small airports will take more than a bunch of very light jets (VLJs). NASA's Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS) project has spent the past five years developing technologies to support that system -- the final demonstration occurred Sunday through Tuesday, in Danville, Va. SATS was a partner program between NASA, six regional "SATS labs," state agencies and private business to develop technologies enabling single-pilot air taxi and other light aircraft operations. The vast collection of participant-friendly technologies at Danville included multiple highway-in-the-sky guidance systems (note the unfortunate acronym: HITS). Of a pilot's interface with future technology, Orion Technologies' Paul Hamilton said, "Paradoxically, solid stick and rudder skills are actually more important than a good IFR scan." Controllers may have another surprise coming. "It's like flying VFR." Another technology on display was the Airport Management Module, which is a trailer bristling with antennas that provides an automated ATC-like function of sequencing aircraft into airports without towers or radar (don't tell the union). "The present ATC system won't scale up [to meet demand]," says Don Taylor, VP of training and flight operations at Eclipse. Bill Michel, VP for marketing, adds that "we need to get the pilot more involved in the system." Overall, the SATS goal was improving the traffic volume and all-weather accessibility of small airports as well as the capabilities of single-pilot flight operations. The more immediate goal for many of the demonstration participants will be finding continuing funding or getting their product out to a paying market.