Creating an Active General Aviation Base: The Future of General Aviation
The article printed on page 70 of AW&ST July20/Aug2 is on the right track as far the factors that will help advance general aviation. However, there is one more element to consider: the aircraft itself. Today's general aviation aircrafts are only refined versions of 50-year-old concepts. General aviation will only become what the EAA wants when safe, quiet, and easy-to-operate vertical takeoff and landing is available to the public.
Today, most people who own a general aviation aircraft must drive through ground traffic to an airstrip to take off—even if they carry their wings on their car roof. This method is not offering any time savings or convenience over ground transportation. Aircrafts should be able to pull out of garages so they can take off vertically, and join an electronically created and maintained above-ground highway system. Such a system—along with a safe, quiet vertical takeoff and landing system—is the future of general aviation and will arrive sooner or later.
Creating Cost Savings
Let’s compare the cost of creating a 250-mile (for example) ground highway system to the cost of an electronically generated above-ground highway system. The costs associated with the ground highway system include a demographic study, geotechnical study, political opposition study, design, construction, maintenance, and control. All of these costs are in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, and will take years to complete.
In comparison, an above-ground, electronically created highway system can be instantly generated by computers with desired aircraft density, or even closed instantly as the density drops. Such a highway can be monitored and controlled with help from existing GPS and aerial collision avoidance systems already in operation.
Providing Valuable Data
By transferring the traffic from ground to air, both the public and governments will benefit from the requirement to file a flight plan for travel. For instance, everyone must file a plan before every flight stating who you are, where you are, and where you are going. Since we face a population explosion and people are always on the move, this will prove to be valuable information to the public and governments. Chances are that there will never be a midair collision unless the system malfunctions. And in the case of accidents or mechanical malfunctions, there will never be a traffic jam or pileup.
It may look like we are not technologically ready for transferring traffic from the ground to the air. But taking a closer look at the aviation and the aerospace industry tells us that with the exception of propulsion, we are ready for an initial start to transfer at least the long-distance portion of ground traffic to the air. The sooner we start, the faster we will have helped to create a major new branch for the transportation industry, and all the new business opportunities associated with it.
Reinventing the Transportation of Electricity
Taking a realistic look at this endeavor, the one and only real technological shortcoming standing between now and then is the immense power required to create truly safe, quiet, and practical vertical takeoff and landing aircrafts. Current propulsion technologies, which are limited to internal combustion engines or turbo shaft engines, are too massive, complicated, and expensive to own and operate daily as a personal ride.
Electricity is the only type of power that can deliver the goods required to create a true vertical takeoff and landing aircraft. The amount of power required is so great that even a hybrid system will fall short of satisfying the equation. What is needed is a way to wirelessly transport electricity. The electric motor technology is available, but the power transition is not. If transporting electricity wirelessly becomes a reality, general aviation will pioneer the use of it, as history has shown. Commercial aviation will adopt it when general aviation identifies and establishes its benefits and operational parameters. Imagine airliners with unlimited range capabilities.
Ducted fan units
Electric-powered, large-diameter ducted fans can be designed and built to the same mass flow performance, interior and exterior aerodynamics, pylon connections, and weight as the current gas turbine power plants installed on airliners, requiring no aerodynamic or structural changes to the aircrafts in service at present.
Today's battery technology will easily fit the fuel tank cavities in aircrafts as a reserved power source, if for any reason power transmission or power receiving is interrupted. The amount of power stored in these batteries should not be underestimated: some airliners carry as much as 100 tons of fuel at takeoff. Consider how much electric power can be stored in 100 tons of batteries and how many minutes of reserved propulsion power that translates to. Note that by upgrading the batteries every five years, the amount of power stored as reserve almost doubles.
Batteries and General Aviation
The battery upgrade is a major driving force behind the creation of a totally electric-powered general aviation, even today. Any general aviation aircraft equipped with batteries to allow for a 300-mile range can double its range by replacing the old batteries with the newest battery technology, and extend its range every five years. This this will possibly translate to less weight, too.
Above all, let's consider the positive environmental impact on the planet from using electricity as the source of power for propulsion in aviation. Consider how many airliners fill their massive fuel tanks multiple times a day. Or how many tons of carbon dioxide are ejected into the atmosphere by airliners every minute. Other benefits of electric-powered aircrafts may be a longer airframe life, due to no change in mass during flight.
Getting There Quicker: Incentivizing Innovation
A grand XPRIZE event for wireless power transmission—open to all educational institutions ranging from high schools and universities to corporations and individuals—could bring us closer to the reality of an above-ground highway system. Such an incentive could create the momentum for expediting the development of a technology that’s been “past due” for at least 50 years. Wire has been the only means of transporting electricity since electricity was discovered. No technology on Earth has remained the same for 150 years!
Establishing an electronically created and maintained, above-ground highway system for general aviation will help create an environment for active general aviation—in turn, leading to the technological, economical, and cultural improvements required to support the industry. The future will arrive only if we open the doors and bring it in.