held its first Personal Aircraft Vehicle (PAV) Challenge in Santa Rosa, California for small modified experimental airplanes with a purse of $250,000 as an aviation promotion for small airplanes as the ‘future mode of regular travel.’ NASA engineers and airplane enthusiasts believe that small “auto pilot” airplanes could one day relieve roadway congestion by offering an alternative for mid-range trips of between 100 and 500 miles that is faster and more efficient than traveling by automobile.
NASA has committed US$2 million over the next 5 years to advance PAV technology in the private general aviation sector. The Pipistrel Virus (shown above), a small-wing sport aircraft which can do 50 MPG on the ground as a car and take off on short runways with a top flight speed of 170 MPH as a plane, cost about $70,000 to build and won 3 of the 6 contest categories and $150,000 of the total prize winnings. The NASA challenge tested speed, efficiency, handling, noise emissions, takeoff and the overall qualities of each plane.
Supporters of PAVs claim that with the help of “virtual” pilot assistants and synthetic visions systems (SVS) the PAV technology can be made available to help “everyday” people fly small planes such as these. Computer technology and enhanced GPS air traffic management (ADS-B type) systems communicating to remote way stations (in place of the current congested radar-based air traffic control method requiring human assistance) could map out flight plans, provide PAV tracking and flight assistance, and create a computer generated landing sequence for the PAVs.
While this technology isn’t going to be ready next year, it seems likely that this could become a future mode of travel within the next 20 to 40 years. It is reported that 90% of the populace lives within 20 miles of a small airport, and there are more than 10,000 private and public small airports in the U.S.