12:29 AM

Personal Air Vehicles:
The Second Century of Gridlock


Until today, I had not heard of Personal Air Vehicles (PAVs). But NASA has, and through the Cafe Foundation – a nonprofit group of flight test engineers in charge of the event – NASA is offering a prize purse of $250,000 to the brain child that comes up with the best design in NASA's Personal Aircraft Vehicle (PAV) Challenge.

As always, I went searching tonight for the 411 on PAVs, and was rocked back on my heels by what I found:

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 legally fly a PAV after completing a simplified training akin to "driver's ed." 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.
O.K., so they are easy to fly, we get that. Any Bozo who can pilot an Escalade can "fly" a PAV, so says the CAFE Foundation's site:
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. 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.
Whoa, baby, that sounds just a touch far out, in a day when the FAA can't even figure out how to fund or implement the Next Generation of ATC. But while the idea of PAVs seems to have far too much "blue sky" for 2007, there might be a day – way WAY off in the future – when some sort of PAV might be possible.

But long before the first PAV takes off from that cute new 400-foot strip next to Grandma's place, FAA and NASA will need to convince us "conventional" pilots that having millions of "pilots" up there with little to no aeronautical knowledge is a good thing. For now, let's sort out user fees, and we'll talk later to FAA about coating the sky with winged computers "flown" by non-aviators.

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