What will general aviation look like in 40 years?

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the future of general aviationWhat will general aviation look like in 40 years?

The year is 2053. I drive to my small general aviation airport in my electric vehicle and pull right up to my hangar. There is no need to gain access via gates due to the virtual barrier placed around the perimeter.  Any breach will quickly dispatch the small IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) security drones should someone approach that isn’t authorized. The area scanners on the property see me inside my car and through the National Identity Database, know I’m an authorized airport user; I love this new noninvasive security theatre stuff. Not good for visitors though.

I pull my incredibly light, but strong, active-composite airplane from the hangar for a flight to a nearby airport that has a great restaurant on the field. The airplane weighs half of what similar airplanes weighed back in the 2010s. It is built using nanotechnology materials that reinforce areas where stress is sensed in real-time, eliminating the need for excess structure, thus the name “active-composites.” Think of it as white blood cells for structures, rushing in to defend against stress – cool stuff! I bet Sean D. Tucker would have loved this aspect of the future.

drones patrol airport

I check systems and then activate, rather than start the engine. Their is almost no noise when I advance the throttle, just the rustling of wind from the ducted fan behind me. My 160hp electric motor is light, powerful, and super-efficient. I can fly 10 hours at full power before needing a recharge making this flight easy on the wallet. Unfortunately those savings are absorbed by the cost of both the airspace use and landing fees. So my $100 hamburger still costs $100 (adjusted for inflation it would really be $1000).

Even before I depart my uncontrolled field, my mandatory flight plan is activated by my inboard avionics during taxi (sensing motion) and once my box says I’m safe to depart I take the runway and launch into the ether. Actually, “uncontrolled field” is an ole timer’s term, now every airport has to be registered in the system and it is virtually controlled by the Airspace Directorate.

My avionics provide vertical and lateral guidance to destination while maintaining terrain, weather, and traffic (including drones) separation. The intelligent fly by wire system flies unless I feel the need to “play pilot” temporarily and then it will succumb to my wishes until I release the controls. This automation was required 10 yes ago “to protect national interest”, but luckily it was cheap.

I land and taxi in to see several of my friends on the ramp in similar airplanes; the demise of avgas and requirement for government mandated automation forced us to a few compliant models that all look-alike. All the “old” airplanes were outlawed and thus scraped or put into museums. That’s ok, at least we’re flying.

future aircraftAfter lunch we head back onto the ramp to depart. The Airspace Directorate requires that we depart no closer to each other than 5 minute intervals. Formation flying can only be done with a permit and special authorization for each sortie.

The flight home is fast, with the a slight tailwind my ground speed is 250 kts in my little 2-seat rocket ship. The view is the same as it was when I was a kid, even if everything else has changed.

After a decent landing, I opted not to let the computer do the landing, I taxi back to my hangar and deplane glad to be living in a country where I am “free.”

by Brent

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