This Thursday past, I hopped in a friends vintage Skylane for a short flight from Ozark to The Hanger, a small airport eatery in farm country just northwest of Springfield. The air was calm, cool and visibility was unlimited. It was delightful and provided me the opportunity to handle the yoke and set up for landings on short strips. While eating we were immersed in airplane things, watched a covey of ultralights depart and then jumped up for a hop to Aurora for fuel. As luck would have it, the radio threw ace-deuce as we entered the pattern at Aurora that was busy with two other airplanes, so we cut and ran for home. Three airplanes at a small town airstrip prompted this writing. Are we ready for the future? We’ll soon know as the future is now.
A new phase in aviation is upon us. When you look up, it would appear there is plenty of room for additional aircraft in our skies. Pilots, however, know that it can get crowded in a hurry, and they fly within a set of rules designed to keep airplanes from hitting one another and the ground when not intended. Three airplanes in a small airport pattern are easily managed, even without a radio, but it is damned inconvenient when you are not talking to one another. Within the next few years we are going to intensify this concern dramatically with the eVTOL concept which is rapidly maturing. The acronym eVTOL stands for electric vertical take off and landing devices, kind of like manned drones. They will allow the pilot to roll one out of his garage and buzz off to the grocery for bread and milk. Seriously. United Airlines has committed a billion dollars to a California company to develop these things. All that stands between reality and dream is time and money and the checks are being written. Prototypes are flying today. Sleek, fast and highly maneuverable, they will soar in popularity among the public. Honda is spending big bucks as is Stellantis (Chrysler to us old dogs). Embraer, the Brazilian giant in airplane manufacturing is also ponying up big dollars on this concept. It is happening today.
Pause and consider that we spend millions of dollars on paint, road signs and engineering to promote the safe flow of vehicular traffic. We also spend to police the movement of vehicular traffic with devices (stop lights) and Human Resources. Still, we kill some 35,000 folks annually in spite of these enhancements. There are no lanes to paint or shoulders to erect signs on in our airspace. In my wildest dreams I cannot imagine a couple thousand of these things buzzing around our cities and countryside relying on common sense and whatever rules the FAA might conjure up. The enforcement of these rules is going to be a hoot and I only hope that I am around to see it. As I write, there are already a number of conventional airplanes that are battery powered and have been certified by the FAA. The technology is getting better every day, but the limitations are virtually the same as in today’s vehicles. Folks are going to fly these things into power lines, water towers and thunderstorms with predictable results. Mobility is an American tradition, and they are going to be popular, dangers notwithstanding.
Remember George Jetson (1962-1989) the patriarch of the futuristic Jetson family? His mythical birth year was 2022! George, my high flying buddy, the time is nigh. We are going to see it happen and it is going to be a treat. The limiting concern, of course is money. With a new 2 seat Light Sport airplane today starting at north of 100K……you have to wonder. That being said, there are thousands of 100K bass boats on our waters today, why not eVTOLS in the skies above?
Have a great weekend!