What The People Want
It didn't get much attention, but it's possible that The Future started last week, when the German company building the Volocopter set a new crowdfunding record and raised about $1.6 million in three and a half days. The money will be enough to complete flight tests with the prototype, and the company says it's ready to quickly move onward to production from there. The final version will be stable, reliable, and easy to fly, the company says, and will be ready for deliveries by 2016.
The Volocopter may seem goofy to pilots who grew up with Cessnas and Cubs, but to a newer generation, it might be the perfect way to navigate the sky. "It makes the experience of flying safer, simpler, and more accessible, and therefore fun," said Satyendra Pakhalé, a designer who chose the Volocopter as his "favorite thing" this week for a Bloomberg holiday feature. Those qualities -- safe, simple, and fun -- are key to the aircraft's appeal.
GA advocates often compare airplanes to boats or motorcycles, as recreational vehicles that, as a bonus, provide transportation. The trouble is, you can play with your bike or your boat all summer long, store it for the winter, and next summer pick up where you left off. Airplanes are not so forgiving. Conscientious pilots always feel that nagging worry that their skills are degrading, those turns to final are not as crisp or sure as they used to be, the flight-planning sequence is not so intuitive as it once was. For some pilots, that constant challenge is part of the fun, and they embrace it. But for others, who are looking for safe and simple, once they slip behind the curve and sense the margin of safety eroding, it's not fun anymore, and they go boating instead.
The Volocopter may not be the GA aircraft of the future. But the enthusiastic response to funding its development might be a sign that people do still want to fly, and they may even want to buy an aircraft. They want that aircraft to be safe, simple, and fun to fly, and if it can also be quiet, maintenance-free, and cheap to operate, that's even better. Cessna pilots might laugh at such a list, but the pilots of the future -- who already are among us -- will expect nothing less.