Time Flies

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Every year about this time, I teach a class at my local state college, and it reminds me that our nation's young people are living in a different world than the one I know (and probably many of you AVweb readers out there). I realized a year or two ago that the students didn't really get it when I mentioned how things have changed since 9/11, because they don't really remember a time before 9/11… most of them were under 8 years old on that day. Neil Armstrong's moon walk is history to them, not a memory, and most of them have only a vague idea about the last century's multiple wars.

Many of us older folks don't realize how much our own world has changed in just a few decades unless we stop and think about it… how people used to smoke everywhere, even on airplanes; how it was normal (and perfectly legal) for factories to dump toxic waste into the nearest waterway; how it used to be standard procedure to throw trash out of car windows (cars with no seat belts or airbags); how the threat of seemingly inevitable nuclear war hung over our heads, and how it was taken for granted that men flew the airplanes and all flight attendants were women.

It's interesting to consider that kind of recent history, because it shows us that things can change, and they can change profoundly and quickly, and sometimes things even change for the better. It also reminds us how change often occurs in unexpected ways, and most of what we predicted in the past or even what seemed inevitable, turned out to be wrong. The world is just too complex and random, and how the future will turn out, nobody can really tell. And it reminds us that all the younger folks around us are living in a world somewhat different from the one we know, a world with a different history and maybe a different future than what we can imagine.

How will that future play out for our little world of aviation? Lots of us older folks remember discovering aviation at a local airport, hanging around there, earning our way by working the fuel line or watching the phones. That doesn't seem to happen as much today… I'm not sure if it's harder today to inspire kids to think that aviation is exciting and adventurous, if today's kids just aren't that interested in exciting adventures, or maybe, what is most likely true -- most kids never were all that interested in exciting adventures, which all too often involve hard work, long hours, and risk.

So, presuming us old timers last another 40 or 50 years, what kind of aviation changes might we see? My guess is that by 2050, GA airplanes will virtually fly themselves, and if they can do that safely and efficiently, and at a somewhat reasonable price, a lot more people might be interested in using them. But I'm also guessing that these drones will still need to take off and land at airports, so they won't take the place of cars. They would still probably be most useful on more or less the same kind of routes as today -- to destinations too far to drive, but too short or out of the way for airline connections. Still, in other words, a kind of niche product, though maybe less so than today.

Will that mean a renaissance for the GA industry? It seems to me it might. Would it rankle us old timers who think real flying means being the captain of your ship? Absolutely. But we will all be relics by then, and there will be plenty of sport aircraft and grass strips where we can indulge our fantasy of flight.

It's a cliche that when we make plans, the gods laugh. When we make predictions, of course, they are rolling in the aisles.

Comments (54)

Unfortunately I think you are as wrong as those who thought flying cars and transports to Mars were coming by the end of the century, the 20th Century. The virtual world has all but replaced the real world for most children. Sometimes the population of characters on TV and in their computers are more real than the person sitting next to them. Why actually fly a plane when you can virtually fly a plane without the expense, risk, or having to actually go outside. In the not too distant future people will hardly leave their houses. School will be conducted via computer, telecommuting and virtual meetings will replace business. Of course the lower income people employed as deliver people for groceries, fast food, and package delivery will still be moving about. If we ever get Star Trek like holodecks and food replicators people will rarely if ever leave their homes, they will sit around and get fatter playing virtual games until this country is taken over by countries that do actual physical manufacturing work. We are headed that way now and I see no turns ahead. As long as GA is expensive, risky, and takes actual learning and thinking it will continue to shrink despite its satisfaction and the way it lifts a persons spirit.

Posted by: RODNEY HALL | September 10, 2012 8:27 AM    Report this comment

I already see the trend for smarter airplanes to compensate for dumber pilots. Take as an example the autopilot (Avidyne I think) that has the straight & level button and that passively monitors your attitude and returns you to S&L when some software engineer decides that your attitude is unusual. This happens even when the A/P is turned off. The next logical step is an autopilot that monitors your fuel consumption and flies you to an airport that has fuel and lands for you when you run low.

Posted by: Jerry Plante | September 10, 2012 10:10 AM    Report this comment

This discussion is moot. We're all plugged into pods like in that movie The Matrix. :-)

Posted by: Amy Zucco | September 10, 2012 11:36 AM    Report this comment

and I thought I was a pessimist!

Posted by: Scott Thomason | September 10, 2012 1:32 PM    Report this comment

One of my many tired "yarsisms" is this: nothing's a good idea until it's THEIR idea!"

I'm pleased to see you espousing my often-scorned opinion that autonomous aircraft are the future of general aviation. And its savior.

Of course I've said that AAVs will become common long before 2050. While I wouldn't mandate them for anyone, neither would I try to prohibit them out of offense to our anthropomorphic majesty. I needn't, because others will, right here in this space. Behold. ;-)

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | September 10, 2012 2:37 PM    Report this comment

I think you're dead right Paul and I'm musing about how much basic aviation and aircraft knowledge will be considered necessary in 2050. Will people be expected to have to learn to aviate and navigate "manually", even though the aircraft will essentially fly themselves? Trends suggest not, or that the accepted level of knowledge will be much less than we might be comfortable with now. But by 2050, people will probably trust technology more because it will be more refined and also cheap enough to allow triple (or higher) redundancy in critical systems. Plus aircraft will more closely resemble living organisms I reckon. There will be a lot more sensors and more of a "nervous system" in the way a biologist would understand it.

Posted by: John Hogan | September 10, 2012 3:31 PM    Report this comment

I hate to “spring” it on you folks, but in 40-50 years, physically transporting humans will not happen, and travel will be reduced to a simulation. The movie that best suggested that was “Total Recall”. Shucks: the only things flying will be the robo-drones monitoring your every move.

Posted by: Phil Derosier | September 10, 2012 5:59 PM    Report this comment

Hey John, check the byline on this one. (Try to keep up, willya...(g)

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 10, 2012 6:08 PM    Report this comment

I dunno, guys, I'm 31 and have already become disenchanted with the quest of more, faster, easier... We all inevitably reach an age where we realize that the days are passing at an ever-increasing pace and long for interaction with tangible things, tangible people. While my 3 children do seem to enjoy video games, their most vivid memories and things they bargain most with their mother and I to do are times spent interacting with real people, real things. We very recently attended an airshow and while they enjoyed being wowed by the loud jets flying low and fast and the aerobatics, they became most engaged when able to sit in the planes and touch the controls and talk with the pilots... My generation is a good, smart one for the most part and is far more interested in preserving true quality of life and instilling good values into our children. We will keep aviation alive, give us a few years :-).

Posted by: Joseph Schwartz | September 10, 2012 6:58 PM    Report this comment

Ha ha apologies to you Mary. In hindsight it was waaaaaaay too insightful to be from you Paul :-)

Posted by: John Hogan | September 11, 2012 4:08 AM    Report this comment

Oh dear, Mary, you’re revealing your age! Yep, for most folks the bag of trash just went out the window without a second thought. We were told to walk upstream of the yarn mill to play in the river because the dye they dumped got into our shorts & hair (nothing up from the mill but the outhouses cantilevered over the stream, and we all “knew” water purified itself by running over the rocks for a mile or so). And of course everywhere were the Men-Women-Colored bathrooms. So definitely some things have improved.

Not sure GA planes will virtually fly themselves in 2050, if indeed non-commercial GA as we know it even exists then. But even if it happens, will it help? Consider the impact of GPS-based flight data and easy access to real-time weather, which together have obsoleted many of the esoteric skills that a pilot had to master. While yes, point-to-point travel is safer & easier for pilots, I doubt it has served to attract anyone to aviation; at best it hasn’t been enough to counter the added drag produced by the vastly more complex airspace and endlessly-expanding regulatory environment a prospective pilot must master.

I think you are right, Mary. There has been a sea change in the type of thing that young people today find interesting and worthy of effort. The majority are urbanized and compartmented in a world that is heavily biased toward gratifications that come without deep and time-consuming effort.

Posted by: John Wilson | September 11, 2012 5:54 PM    Report this comment

As a non anti-human-flight human, I say, beware. Could anti-human-robotic bloggers using computer-generated essays be far off? ;-) Anti-human-automated-robotic-flight for humans may save GA, but if I'm replaced by an anti-human-computer-programmed-autonomous robot at work I won't be able to afford to fly anyway... :(

So, if technology has inexorably forced us to fly down that new airway, you will find me handing out flyers at the loading stations, with a quote from Aldous Huxley that reads, " The worst enemy of life, freedom and the common decencies is total anarchy; their second worst enemy is total efficiency." Please drop a few coins into the no-longer-needed flightbag at my feet, if you can. Thanks.

Posted by: David Miller | September 11, 2012 10:18 PM    Report this comment

Hi Dave I see you. Sorry to burst your bubble but there will be no coins in the future.

GA me thinks will no longer exist, as for the commercial airlines well they may just be able to hold on, something like GA is doing today. Going to some planet or moon will be the future travel. Go on Google Earth and take a look at what is going on there. Why actually fly when you can virtually fly for free. The next generation of Google Earth will be fully 3D and with the 3D PC monitors you will be able to travel to anywhere in the world (and not worry about passports or being hi jacked/kidnapped or hurt) and see in real time what is happening there. Museums and places of interest can now be visited on-line so why go there?

Today we are able to communicate with anyone anywhere in the world in real time using text (sms), audio and video from wherever we are. Many companies are realising the communication technology and using it to good use, by having people work from home and communicate with each other by video conferencing.

I work from home manufacturing ribbon stands in wood, they are collected once a week and I email the invoice, do all my banking on-line and get my shopping and groceries delivered.
40 years ago this was just a dream.

Well done Mary a good article.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | September 12, 2012 7:36 AM    Report this comment

My pessimistic predictions for the future:

The private automobile as we now know it will be regulated out of existence by the convergence of increasingly stringent fuel economy and safety regulations. If there are any private cars at all, they will be limited in speed to no more than 40 miles per hour at most.

Private aviation will also die, owing to restrictions on CO2 imposed by the EPA combined again, with ever more stringent safety and crashworthiness regulations. And too, there will be no small airports left. They will go the way of drive-in movies.

Motorcycles will be severely regulated; with laws restricting their speed and power. Supposedly such laws will be for our safety. But the real reason will be that motorcycles (and non-airline, non-commercial, non-business airplanes too) symbolize a kind of freedom that will come into increasing conflict with the socialist dictatorships we are destined to suffer.

Could I be wrong? Actually, I hope so.

Posted by: Alex Kovnat | September 12, 2012 9:53 AM    Report this comment

"Could I be wrong? Actually, I hope so."

I'll take that bet and would argue that you are wrong. When I started in journalism in 1974, I wrote a number of stories predicting this very thing. In 1974, world car production was about 29 million. Last year, it was 59 million and it will continue to rise, buoyed along by China.

What such predictions always fail to consider is the confluence of market forces and politics. An industry making 59 million expensive things has a not insubstantial grip on the body politic and it's not going to simply roll over and go away. It will make deals with regulators and it will see market opportunities, some companies succeeding better than others, just as competitors have always done.

The direct corollary is peak oil production, which has variously been predicted five times over the past five decades. What peak oilers have always failed to consider is the impact of price on demand and technology on production. As a result, decade after decade, they've been wrong.

As for airplanes, I haven't a clue. I do know that there are several research projects aimed at pilotless airplanes for passengers. Whether these will succeed or not is anyone's guess.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 12, 2012 11:52 AM    Report this comment

> there are several research projects aimed at pilotless airplanes
> for passengers. Whether these will succeed or not is anyone's guess.


They landed a car on Mars hanging from a 'floating' crane.

They could fly a full blown Shuttle mission.

Hey, they can 'auto-land' airplanes already and drones do their own taxi!

Will we have 'pilot-less' airliners?
Well, the story goes that at the beginning there were 5 crew members: pilot, copilot, engineer, navigator and radio-operator.
Radios got smaller, got moved to the front and the radio-operator was gone
They stuck a compass and some gizmos in the panel and got rid of the navigator
Some other more gauges in the panel and they sent home the flight engineer.
Now the tendency is to get rid of the copilot and replace it with a dog. The pilot is there to babysit the airplane. The dog is there to bite the pilot if he touches anything...
Who knows, they may keep the dog... :)

Posted by: ENRIQUE TROCONIS | September 12, 2012 12:59 PM    Report this comment

> Now the tendency is to get rid of
> the copilot and replace it with a
> dog.

I think its kind of wierd, lots of folks won't fly over Lake Michigan (or other bodies of water) in an airplane that has only one engine. A Coast Guard officer once put it this way: "If you fly over the Great Lakes in a single-engine plane, be sure to wear bright orange. Its not so we can save you, its so we can find you. It brings closure to families".

And yet the powers-that-be want aircraft with only one person aboard who knows how to fly it. Go figure.

Posted by: Alex Kovnat | September 12, 2012 1:43 PM    Report this comment

Today there's certainly no technical barrier to having 747-size single pilot aircraft, the problem will be in convincing the flying public they don’t need redundant pilot/monitors to watch over their flight.

People climb into a single-pilot air taxi or island hopper flight all the time without a thought, but you can bet when you get into the aluminum tube 100+ passenger class jets they’ll demand a co-pilot for a long time to come. Even with the notional full-auto aircraft they would want the backup of full manual controls staffed by a qualified pilot. Or at least a REALLY well-trained dog, perhaps genetically engineered for the job?

Posted by: John Wilson | September 12, 2012 7:13 PM    Report this comment

Paul I agree with you about the motorcar except that we are going to see them morph into something like flying vehicles rather than run along a road. When the auto industry seriously invests R&D into VTOL crafts the car with four wheels and the motorbike will start to become extinct as more and more people will fly to wherever they want to go. Real estate for the purpose of transport will become prohibitively expensive necessitating new forms of personal transport.

Because of the population expansion new ideas and innovations are increasing astronomically to keep up. With each passing year there are more and more people able to improve on what is now available thus improving technology at an ever increasing rate. What we thought was impossible a few years ago is now considered history being overtaken but new ideas.

Once the world sorts out the financial economies we should see an explosion of innovations and that is the time we will be glad we are still alive. Needless to say I find myself pleased that I have lasted this long with the prospect of a better future than what we had before.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | September 13, 2012 5:01 AM    Report this comment

Oh come now, in 40 to 50 years we might be at the stage where aeroplanes have engines designed in the 1990s, and not the 1940s.

Posted by: Brian McCulloch | September 13, 2012 8:34 AM    Report this comment

Brian Yes You know the LOL and LFO (Laugh out loud and Laugh Falling Over) well I did that from you comments. Thank you I needed that

Posted by: Bruce Savage | September 13, 2012 8:56 AM    Report this comment

Bruce please, not the flying cars again, we've been down that road several times and it wasn't pretty.

Posted by: Richard Montague | September 13, 2012 9:21 AM    Report this comment

As a electrical design engineer in the 1980s I worked on one of the first microprocessors (i.e. computer chips to those in Rio Linda). Even in those days, we used to say "One day these things are going to rule over us". Many wonderful things have come about by cheap computing power; for example MRIs, cellphones, satellite weather and improved safety and efficiency (and AvWeb of course). But the downside that trumps all the good is that they enable the worst in human beings to have power they never envisioned before. Do you really think the tax code could have ever become so complicated without computers? Could the FAA even begin to propose per-flight fees and hope to collect them without computers? Could your daily movements be tracked and recorded as they are with the data from cellphone system computers? Could your identity be hijacked easily without computers?

Eventually, when all things are networked (and it's not long), the power to regulate and control everything will be unstoppable. It's great for those few in control, who feel a need to manage us "for our benefit", but for the rest of us freedom will be but a distant memory. We have built our own shackles; human nature will see to it that we wear them.

Posted by: A Richie | September 13, 2012 9:23 AM    Report this comment

I think many of you have it wrong about TV, computers, the internet and google earth's effect on people. If anything these sort of things increase people's desire to go explore. Recreational travel has increased due to people seeing what is out there. The same can happen with GA. The more people use a flight simulator, see (cool looking) GA aircraft on the web and see places the more they want to go do it and this will help GA in the future. Yes, people no longer hang out at the airport but if they hang out online at GA sites then they can get hooked. What we need are more blogers telling about their GA adventures and a good GA social site. Of course a modern, low cost, great looking, safe and practical aircraft would help.

Posted by: M Kett | September 13, 2012 11:44 AM    Report this comment

Consider this: the ultimate purpose of the Next-Gen ATC system is to identify, monitor, track, separate and control all air traffic.

While this sounds like a good thing (and some of it is) in the near future every movement of every aircraft will be recorded and tracked. This opens up a entire new world for taxes and fees. For example, doing aerobatics could be considered wasteful of public airspace, so maybe a $275 charge per loop is warranted. And if you happen to use aircraft for personal travel from A to B, then you should be willing to pay a tax on the gain you derive versus driving or using public transportation from A to B; sort of a "convenience fee" you pay the federal government for the experience of general aviation. For travel on good VFR days, a "sightseeing" tax could be levied, and IFR days "special use fee" for navaids could be charged. There is no end to this, and it is all built around the identification and monitoring of each and every one of us.

So, enjoy the days of freedom taking off and flying in your NORDO Cub, it's about to end. Lest you think I'm a rebellious cowboy, I'm not; I've always been a strict by-the-rules pilot. But I am very concerned that this automated system will eventually hang us all despite one's best efforts to comply with all the rules, all the time. Happy flying.

Posted by: A Richie | September 13, 2012 1:40 PM    Report this comment


But remember Grocho's famous quip: "Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana."



Posted by: SV MASSIMINI | September 13, 2012 2:10 PM    Report this comment

Thanks to engineer A. Richie for allowing his philosopher side to write down just some of the potential problems that also fill my head from the idea of this strange dream.

Want to know where a real need and interest is for today's youth? They need blankets and chairs to camp out overnight next week at iPhone retail outlets to grab a new toy. I even heard the sale of this new phone will measurably affect the GDP of the country.

Without even a hint of need for such a future project as pilotless GA aircraft, let's work to keep the spirit of flight alive now. Grand, social transportation needs will be met by planners and marketeers if and when the time comes. It's not about 'old timers' or 'relics' or machismo. It's about offering and promoting the rewards of personal flight to the newer generations and keeping that priviledge alive.

Posted by: David Miller | September 13, 2012 3:29 PM    Report this comment

My opinion of reality for those optimists imagining software dependent autonomous vehicles, either road or airborne, will be transporting people in the near future, 2050 or so.

My career was life support medical devices. Specifically; designing, manufacturing and marketing medical ventilators as a life-sustaining device for those that need such assistance. .

To provide appropriate ventilation, there need be enough volume exchange to the lungs to control CO2 levels. And there need be sufficient O2 delivered to the lungs to maintain necessary arterial blood gas levels of O2 delivered at the cellular level throughout the body.

In the late '70s there was sufficient technology to provide continuous, accurate measurements of the blood gas parameters. By the early '80s there was sufficient technology to have a microprocessor operate a ventilator to provide prescribed blood gas values, bounded by safety margins, for a patient in need.

We're more than thirty years on now. No one, including my company, has produced such a device for sale and widespread distribution.

Why not? It is simple technology with a simple solution, but...

It is a huge risk for those who would provide the investment funds, and the amount would be significant. The need for money is very important regardless technology.

The uncertainty of regulatory approval is not acceptable to most investors. They need a concrete business plan and specific milestone driven development program.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | September 13, 2012 4:19 PM    Report this comment


The move to AAVs will be made possible by technology, but it will be made successful by a measurable reduction of risk. Essentially, all of the proof that John Q Public will need will be in the pudding of the hundreds of thousands of small AAVs that are soon will inundate us. The commercial cargo carriers will follow suite, as will small passenger aircraft. Will large passenger aircraft migrate to AAVs? Probably. Certainly it makes no technical sense to design an AAV that also permits human-controlled operation - it's an oxymoron.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | September 14, 2012 7:03 AM    Report this comment

I've said this before. In the very near future probably within the next two to three years we are going to be presented with an option of having a personal identification tag (PID) for security purposes. Can you guess how many will object? If in the same way AAV's on commercial airlines are sold for security purposes how many will object? In both cases very very few and not enough to be bothered with. Without a PID you can not do business you will not be able to buy or sell any products because without the PID you will be considered an enemy of the state.

Wow the weather has cleared up so it's a bit of flying for me see you later. Life is great if you don't weaken

Posted by: Bruce Savage | September 14, 2012 8:52 AM    Report this comment

"....AAVs will be made possible by technology...."

Thomas, I think you missed the key point in my posting. The example I presented is an actual fact. The technology has existed for decades to make a life-support ventilator self-controlling inself to meet two simple patient requirements.

It hasn't been done !! For the reasons I gave.

The thousands of AAVs you suggest will have to be manufactured by someone. Who ?? Certainly none of our existing aerospace companies. Someone new ???

Building these thousands of AAVs will require a lot of money for R&D, and then a lot more money, 100X, for certification and to begin manufacturing.

Where will this money come from ???

These AAVs will need FAA approval to operate. How do you think they approach the approval process ??? How long would it take the FAA to build a qualified software review team ???

BTW, I consider NextGen an easier project by an order of magnitude compared to the technology needed to put the public into an AAV.

How long has NextGen been in process ??? When will it be done ???

Posted by: Edd Weninger | September 14, 2012 10:55 AM    Report this comment

China will build the AAVs. Cheap engineering, cheap labor, cheap money, unregulated environments, and little accountability. The liability issues will be swiftly overcome with the legal chasm between US and China (they don't even respect other countries' intellectual property, so why would they worry about lawsuits). And heaven help us if a popular US politician gloms onto the idea as good for the US, the FAA, DHS, TSA etc will rubber stamp the heck out of it without a nanosecond of delay! For a preview, look what they did to our gasoline supply with the ethanol lobby's bandwagon; just charge ahead, consequences be damned!

Posted by: A Richie | September 14, 2012 2:45 PM    Report this comment

Dear Mary,

Glad to see a woman forecasting GA airplanes flying themselves by 2050 and attracting a lot more people by then -- as men's response to this typically goes: "Oh dude, they'll all crash into each other and fall on our heads!"

But why do you see these aircraft still taking off and landing at airports and thus not replacing cars?

VERTOL is the solution for landing outside airports and all around urban areas -- whereby the only eligible concept to date combining VERTOL and fast-cruising is the tilt-rotor.

Docking to the top of a perch like a bird, it takes no footprint -- and with the cockpit winched to ground after separation from the airframe, thus becoming an urban mini-car, modal transfer takes place at the urban periphery.

Brian McCulloch writes:

"Oh come now, in 40 to 50 years we might be at the stage where aeroplanes have engines designed in the 1990s, and not the 1940s."

By then we'll have 1980 tilt-rotor, and not 1910 fixed-wing technology -- and electric motors instead of engines...

Richard Montague writes:

"Bruce please, not the flying cars again, we've been down that road several times and it wasn't pretty."

After reading my comment on the article "Why Flying Cars Endure", you should be able to change your mind.

Posted by: Oscar Fleury | September 14, 2012 5:10 PM    Report this comment

Interesting, (. . . I'm not a poet or philosopher, in fact far from it) but I didn't notice ONE mention of human joy or the spirit lifing high of doing something one loves and doing it well. I own a Beech V35 and a BMW M3 and both bring a giant smile to my spirit every time I fly, drive or even wash and wax. I suspect I'm not alone since there a tens and even hundreds of these and similiar (motorcycles included) vehicles in our great country. I would not want to be the politician or bureaucrat that suggests limiting or denying that freedom of human spirit.

Posted by: Burns Moore | September 17, 2012 8:43 AM    Report this comment

woops, should have been . . . hundreds of thousands . . . sorry.

Maybe I need an automated typist : )

Posted by: Burns Moore | September 17, 2012 8:46 AM    Report this comment

Hey have you all forgotten that the Higgs particle has been recently discovered and we will have anti-gravity devices that will allow EVERYONE to be in the air? Of course the car or whatever it is called, will be controlled by computer.

Posted by: Nelson Swartz | September 17, 2012 10:28 AM    Report this comment

Perhaps mentioning that I was honored to receive the FAA Master Pilot Award last year,
and speak from my many years of involvement in flying, politics and engineering will give
my comments some credibility.
My pessimistic outlook is that in about 20 years the only GA that will exist will be the G-5's, Citations, etc. to ferry Corporate America, flown by retired airline pilots.
The Embry-Riddle's will train those airline pilots.
Piston engines will be legislated or priced out of existence, and no one will have the
inclination or finances to home build a diesel engine LSA.
There will be no military pilots, except those who fly UAV's, and who have never personally been in an airplane, other than air lining from assignment to assignment.
I just hope the ability and opportunity to keep flying my Pitts and my friends Skylane
last for my lifetime.

Posted by: Jim KLick | September 17, 2012 12:19 PM    Report this comment

We seem to have morphed into an unknown, parallel universe....

Posted by: Edd Weninger | September 17, 2012 1:34 PM    Report this comment


My above comment tells you the future belongs to autopilots, not to pilots, be they FAA-honored masters -- and please note that the US army is already looking for post-GPS air navigation technology such as e-loran for instance!

The word aviation stems from the latin avis meaning bird -- and birds evolved from reptiles 200 million years ago... What a shame that our planes took of only little more than a century ago!

If there's one thing to be virtually nostalgic about, it's the 747s and F/18s, who are dinosaurs heading for the same fate as their ancestors -- and not as most of you think, the crown of human aviation which is rather comparable to a new-born, if not still an embryon...

Leapfrogging into space and making this into a modern saga is a trick played by the rulers-that-be to black-out the crucial meaning of the atmosphere for the civil society as the ubiquitous medium for the imminent boom of massively popularized airborne individual mobility!

Posted by: Oscar Fleury | September 17, 2012 1:36 PM    Report this comment

After man labored in vain to fly for thousands of years, Orville and Wilbur finally broke the chains and actually made it possible. Do you think they ever thought that after this epic achievement, the hardest part of flying would not be "lift versus drag", but actually be the regulatory burden? Seems they didn't account for that in teh wind tunnel.

Posted by: A Richie | September 17, 2012 1:51 PM    Report this comment

Right, but from 1910 on, in the wake of WW1, the US rulers already sensed that aviation would allow them to enforce power from above -- like their medieval predecessors did in building lofty fortresses!

Anticipating the need to exclude the masses from the airspace for this new power enforcement joker to work properly, they decided to sponsor Henry Ford's Model T and thus to confine individual freedom of movement mainly to the ground -- that's when the automobile era started with its sprawling road networks!

And that's why many are still fixed on the road as a take-off and landing lane for flying cars alias roadable aircraft...

Posted by: Oscar Fleury | September 17, 2012 2:46 PM    Report this comment

"the wake of WW1.." ?? That would be post-1918, not 1910. And the Model T came out in 1908, some 10 years earlier, so the theory needs a little work!

Posted by: A Richie | September 17, 2012 3:31 PM    Report this comment

Conspiracy theories added to the mix now. Evidently, if you can't answer the tough, real questions like the one offered about finances from Edd, put on the tinfoil hat.

Thank goodness for 'parallel universes' and 'alternate realities', known or unknown...all ideas need their own resting place.

Posted by: David Miller | September 17, 2012 6:22 PM    Report this comment

A Richie: Sorry, I got my English and the numbers wrong -- wanted to write something like "on the brink of WW1" i.e. that before even WW1 the US rulers sponsored Ford to mass-produce cars in order to keep the masses grounded and thus banned from the airspace which they anticipated since December 1903 to become their exclusive realm for power enforcement from above.

Two figures indicate that the strategy was continued so much the more after WW2: at the end of the eighties annual GA aircraft sales in the USA were up to 20,000 units -- at the end of the nineties, 20 years later, this figure had dropped to a mere 700... Not that the average middle-class American had given up dreaming of a farmhouse with his own private landing strip and airplane -- the culprit is of course the government with ever more stringent regulations, as you pointed out in your post.

And the latest news is very much in this line with Obama's proposed 100$ tax for every flight, which is most penalizing for the smallest aircraft.

And remember that America's stronghold on neutral soil in the center of Europe, i.e. Switzerland (my country), is walking in the steps of Uncle Sam, along with North Korea... yes, these two countries are the only ones in the world to maintain a legal ban on ultralight motorized aircraft and helicopters, i.e. on personal aircraft of the future!

This said, Switzerland claiming to be #1 in innovation, should I be ashamed of being Swiss?

Posted by: Oscar Fleury | September 18, 2012 8:29 AM    Report this comment

I disagree with your theory, at least from the US point of view. In the USA, military airpower was not considered a serious endeavor until the 1920s, so it would not have been seen as a great tool of control on the population.

As for the surge in aircraft sales during the 1970s and 1980s, much of this was fueled by investment tax credits offered by the United States government. The government was encouraging sales, not hindering them. Product liability costs slowed production until the industry was granted some degree of tort reform in 1994.

But no matter which country you are in, the politicians are always ready to tax us out of existence. Hopefully we can survive.

And yes, you can be proud of being Swiss. My own ancestors emigrated from Zurich to America in the 1730s. You have a beautiful country.

Posted by: A Richie | September 18, 2012 9:53 AM    Report this comment

Whether I should be ashamed of being Swiss was an improper question: ashamed I am of those who pushed the young long-haired lawyer and socialist militant Moritz Leuenberger to the top of the Department of Transportation, Energy, Communication and Environment -- keeping him there for 15 years along with the ban on ULMs.

He was replaced by Doris Leuthard, an utterly attractive economist -- yet even less competent in technical matters than her predecessor who, shortly before he quit, let us know that the Government envisaged ending the ban on ULMs... it's still effective.

Alas, still worse: end of 2009, the Federal Office for Civil Aviation, a division of the above department, ordered a massive increase of a series of GA taxes, among which the tax imposed on helicopters for every landing outside an airfield, cranking it up from 150 to 550 CHF!

After a nationwide upheaval among the PP community, the tax was cut back to 240 CHF.

Considering that the helicopter is independent by design from airfields, this piece of political extremism to gain acceptance from the victims for nearly doubling a basically unjustified tax, should be sufficient proof in your own eyes that there is a strong strategic issue at stake -- remember that we have about 50 F/5 Tigers and 33 F/A-18 Hornets... And remember that in 2001 it only needed the blocking of a motorway and of a narrow-gage railway to prevent access to the valley of Davos by contesters.

Had they been individually airborne...

Posted by: Oscar Fleury | September 18, 2012 4:02 PM    Report this comment

Hi, Edd!

I don’t think that I missed your point. I agree with your analysis regarding the vent. I assert that it does/will not ably to AAVs, however. I said: “The move to AAVs will be made possible by technology, but it will be made successful by a measurable reduction of risk.” It’s that motivation – the reduction of risk – that will drive AAVs, but which was insufficient motivation for your vent.

Who will manufacture the AAVs? The existing base of aircraft manufacturers, possibly (but not likely) abetted by a newcomer. (The model for that is Cirrus, but I won’t hold my breath waiting for another CD to comer along.) They will do it because it will be a way for them to increase their sales volume – drastically. And because the technology will increase safety and thus mitigate their exposure.

The model for all of this is glass avionics vs the “tried-and-true” mechanical claptrap that we employed until the Agency capitulated. The Agency will embrace AAVs for four reasons:
1. New blood / new thinking in OKC
2. Orders from Congress
3. Undeniable and huge increases in safety
4. Pressure from stakeholders

NexGen is a typical government procurement project. It’s conceptually flawed, so even a perfect execution would be sub-optimum. Gulfstream can build – and sell – the G650, but our entire military-industrial complex can’t deliver the F-35. Coincidence?

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | September 19, 2012 7:20 AM    Report this comment

"NexGen is a typical government procurement project. It’s conceptually flawed"...

Thomas, the flaw is right in the acronym ADS-B = Advanced DEPENDENT Surveillance-Broadcast.

'Dependent' is the flaw, materialized by the hundreds of ground-based ADS-B control stations planned by the US government -- whereas the change of paradigm is that from radar positioning (performed from the ground and radio-transmitted to individual pilots) to GPS data radio-transmitted from space directly to individual pilots (and autopilots!)-- thus enabling each of them to act as a virtual air traffic controller within his own critical portion of airspace, thereby canceling the need for ground stations.

The investment in these unnecessary ground stations would be better spent on a first series of ultra-light electric tilt-rotor aircraft in order to trigger the trend towards the transfer of intercity road traffic into the airspace...

Posted by: Oscar Fleury | September 19, 2012 7:59 AM    Report this comment


The most obvious conceptual flaw in ADS-B manifests itself when (apparently not “IF”) the FAA de-commissions its existing radar-coverage network. Nicest thing about radar is it’s independent of other apparatus – it works even when a vehicle’s transponder is silent. The same can’t be said for ADS-B, which relies upon a chain of four serial critical items:

1. The ground stations – lose coverage, and the controllers (and many/most other aircraft) are “blind.”

2. The airborne ADS-B transmitters. Silence is “invisibility.” That should give pause to all.

3. The airborne navigation systems. ADS-B out is useless when the aircraft doesn’t know its own position, or even worse ( ? ) when the “known” position is inaccurate.

4. The GPS constellation network. When it becomes unavailable, the aircraft won’t know where they are; refer to item 3, above.

I’ll be interested to see what the Agency has to say about this, when they hold a FAST Team meeting with local pilots in Simsbury, CT on Sunday, September 23rd. the Regional Administrator is scheduled to be in attendance. Should be interesting…

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | September 19, 2012 1:34 PM    Report this comment


Projecting ADS-B into the future casts the perspective of redundant satellite navigation based on GPS, Glonass, and Galileo (to be followed by the Chinese and Indian systems) -- with quintuple redundancy finally to grant extreme robustness to the whole.

Together with the tilt-rotor's ability to hover in case of improbable failure of the system or of the equally redundant on-board receivers/transmitters/computers -- or else in case of locally overcrowded airspace under unusual affluence -- the interactive system will instruct each aircraft to descend vertically, except for those with enough energy left to hold their position, whereby the situation will literally decant until everybody can be cleared to resume flight...

Also notice that experiments are going on at universities inside and outside the USA with autonomous drones avoiding collisions with obstacles and other drones -- whereby TCAS is already applied in our skies... and since immemorial times also by swallows.


In the expression 'flying car', car is a contraction of carriage, i.e. a means for carrying something (people or freight) -- hence, a flying car is a flying means for carrying something (people or freight) and therefore not referring specifically to a "roadable" vehicle. Similarly, an automobile is an autonomous mobile and could as well be an aircraft -- so why should we let the motorcar squat the generic expression?

Posted by: Oscar Fleury | September 19, 2012 4:19 PM    Report this comment


As you probably know, I'm a huge proponent of truly autonomous aircraft control systems. That said, ADS-B is on-target to be implemented as a replacement for radar in a largely traditional, optimistically and somewhat reluctantly transitional, human-centered ATC paradigm. Reducing the likelihood of an occurrence of item 4 from my previous comment (unavailability of reliable GPS positioning information), does nothing to mitigate the effects of the other three items. Even with 1,000 orbiting satellites, whenever an aircraft loses its ability to reliably determine its position, or whenever an aircraft loses its ability to report its calculated position, it will become “invisible” in a non-radar environment. I plan to ask the new England Regional Administrator about the Agency’s plans ( ? ) for dealing with this phenomenon, at a meeting on Sunday morning. If I learn anything, I’ll share it in this space.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | September 20, 2012 7:19 AM    Report this comment

Thomas Yarsley makes some excellent points. ADS-B is a poorly thought system with multiple points of failure.

I used to be an avionics repair tech; let me tell you there are dozens (maybe 100's) of aircraft out there flying today with inoperative or weak transponders that haven't yet discovered their problem. ADS-B will likely be no different. But when your ADS-B-out beacon dies, the A/C becomes completely invisible. At least with passive radar there is a backup system to allow detection.

Think of the terror opportunities that ADS-B will provide. Remember Flight 93? It was presumably headed for Washington until it was taken over by passengers and crashed in Pennsylvania. The terrorists turned off the transponder, but fortunately ATC radar was still able to track its location. With ADS-B the flight would have no problem continuing to their destination of destruction with no hope of interception by defensive forces.

One of the problems with today's government is that no program that gets started ever gets stopped even if evidence against becomes overwhelming. ADS-B and adding ethanol to our gasoline supply are two examples that come to mind.

Posted by: A Richie | September 20, 2012 9:21 AM    Report this comment

"With ADS-B the flight would have no problem continuing to their destination of destruction with no hope of interception by defensive forces."

A Richie: with no hope of interception indeed, since the F-16s were delayed on purpose -- yet with lots of hope having plenty of personal UL tilt-rotor aircraft crowding the skies all around on a regular basis referring to AIS-B (Advanced Independent Surveillance-Broadcast)... with each carrying a personal weapon of some sort (mini air-to-air missile, small machine-gun, laser, or simply a Canon... video camera witnessing the absence of pilots in the attack planes), as a means of self-defense / defense of threatened neighbors, as is par of the course among average US citizens!

However, let's not trigger an off-topic 9/11 polemic -- otherwise I would have to come up with evidence that Lockerbie was an accident, and the official saga mainly based on a "Swiss-Connection"...

Posted by: Oscar Fleury | September 20, 2012 10:33 AM    Report this comment

So, I spoke with Amy Lind Corbett at the annual Simsbury CT fly-in on Sunday, September 23rd. The topics were: concerns about the failure mode of ADS-B (see above), and concerns about the Congress dumping privacy issues associated with UAV use, onto the FAA.

Amy is smart and dedicated. She strives to understand all of the issues that come before her as New England Regional Administrator. I came away from our conversation with the impression that she is aware of the ADS-B issues, and that she is hopeful (if not optimistic) that smarter heads will prevail on the privacy-regulation issue.

Whether her awareness will or can result in action in Washington is an open mystery.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | September 24, 2012 1:31 PM    Report this comment

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