Imagine Mega Mobility

May 1st, 2014 by Jack Olcott

Imagine the advantages of combining an automobile’s ease of operation with an aircraft’s performance.   The resulting mega expansion in mobility would generate huge business opportunities and improve quality of life.

 History shows that transportation improvements expand economic and social benefits.  As stated by James Rood Doolittle in his 1916 tome, The Romance of the Automobile Industry, “Transportation has been the ladder upon which humanity has climbed, rung by rung, from a condition of primitive savagery to the complex degree of civilization enjoyed by man in the twentieth century.”  A vehicle that combined the user friendliness of the car with the speed and range of a typical GA aircraft would bring a new dimension of travel to the twenty-first century.

Today’s automobiles are so easy to operate that obtaining a driver’s license is more commonplace than graduating from high school.  The public feels sufficiently comfortable with their driving abilities that they are willing to rent a car they have never driven previously and venture into a dark and stormy night, even when they are unfamiliar with the surrounding area.   Technology has created very reliable vehicles, in-car navigation systems that assure even remote locations can be found, and highways that are sound.   The resulting mobility supports commerce and unites people wherever roads exist across our nation.

Imagine an aircraft that owners find as easy to operate as an automobile but can travel twice or three as fast and is not constrained to a system of roads.  Users of such a vehicle would have access to vastly more locations than can be reached with the family car. 

Pipe Dream? Absolutely not!  Just as technology enabled the car’s advance, so will technology enable the “aerial automobile” to be a reality.  The first cars, developed in the early 1800s and powered by steam engines, were so heavy that they were legislated against because they destroyed the existing roads.  Gasoline engines and new tires developed before the end of the nineteenth century overcame that obstacle.

Today, new propulsion systems ranging from electric motors driving ducted fans to fuel-efficient diesels are emerging, as are structural designs employing lightweight composites.  Concepts of vertical take-off and landing are within reach. Most exciting, in my opinion, are the advanced avionics systems that would enable the aircraft to operate easily in its own bubble of airspace specified by a 4D (latitude, longitude, height and time) ATC system. Infrastructure development such as an advanced ATC system will follow just as the automobile of 110 years ago stimulated the construction of hard surface roads.  (When the Wrights first flew, there were about 200 miles of paved roads in the USA.)   Applications of today’s automation systems, such as employed in advanced autopilots and drones, will result in handing qualities and operational ease that would require less skill that driving a car.  Operating such an advance personal transport would be comfortable and very safe.

Cost?  In 1903, the George N. Pierce Company introduced its Arrow line of automobiles.  The 1904 Great Arrow sold for $4,000, which was about four times the average person’s annual wage at the time and reflected the limited number of cars sold (between 1901 and 1903, Pierce sold about 170 units.)   Adjusted for inflation, the Great Arrow’s price tag would exceed $102,000 today.

Due in large part to volume production, today’s technologically sophisticated and highly useful automobiles are priced within the reach of the average US worker.  Consider what cars would cost if they were produced at the rate of Bonanza production—about 35 a year.

I contend that an advanced personal transport would be sufficiently beneficial to attract large numbers of buyers and thus be offered at price close to that of a high-end car.  With the application of existing technology and with enlightened infrastructure development, price would not be a show-stopper.

Imaging what benefits such mobility would provide.

Jack Olcott

Jack Olcott is president of General Aero Co. and past president of the National Business Aviation Association. Olcott has a rich history in aviation, including working as a flight instructor and flight research specialist, leading aviation media properties for McGraw-Hill, and serving on various advisory boards and councils. His current activities involve advocating the advantages of business aviation domestically as well as internationally. Olcott has more than 8,500 hours of flight time and type ratings in a Learjet, Citation I and II, Dassault Falcon 50/900, and Beech Model 300/1900.

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