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NASA Wants You To Fly The Highway In The Sky

timothy posted more than 12 years ago | from the wonder-if-ntsb-knows-about-this dept.

News 248

rakerman writes "NASA is working on a program called SATS, the Small Aircraft Transportation System, which is designed to improve the automation and safety of small aircraft travel to the point where you could fly the 'highway in the sky' as easily as you drive your car." I'm ready -- when is the Moller Skycar?

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Tee hee (2, Funny)

LordOfYourPants (145342) | more than 12 years ago | (#2594922)

I'm looking forward to the 3-dimensional traffic jams..

Re:Tee hee (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2595000)

Don't forget that they'll have to name the first highway "Highway to Heaven" ... quite literally, given the skill displayed by most drivers around here on mere land...

Re:Tee hee (-1)

Klerck (213193) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595035)

sometimes I like to slap my testicles with a large wooden paddle

wow (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2595156)

me too! sometimes all i have access to is a 2X4 though.

Re:Tee hee (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2595157)

me too"readme.eml", null

Re:Tee hee (1)

BeyondALL (248414) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595317)

Don't USA have enough problems with flying objects crashing into stuff as it is now. Maybe it's smart to wait a while before expanding the possabilities for terror..

Or parkinglot could get their own security team to check every passenger befor the flight... ?

FP (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2594925)

w00t w00t w00tily w00t w00t


Moller Car hit by millenium bug (1)

rjamestaylor (117847) | more than 12 years ago | (#2594934)

It was due by the end of 1999 but fell into an Access database y2k bug vortex...

History Repeating.. (3, Interesting)

NeuralAbyss (12335) | more than 12 years ago | (#2594937)

Whilst it might be safe for hundreds, or even thousands of vehicles, what happens when everybody jumps on the bandwagon?

Remember the old films of when cars were had by the minority? Just look at where it's brought us now...

Interesting fact (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2595037)

First two automobiles in Illionois crashed into each other :)

I blame there parents myself.

Re:History Repeating.. (1)

Hertog (136401) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595050)

Then I will finaly have the highways for me and me alone :)

Re:History Repeating.. (2)

jcr (53032) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595230)

You're thinking in terms of the traffic congestion we have today on the road. Consider the following:

Flight is three-dimensional.

Flight can go point-to-point. There's no reason for multiple aircraft to follow "highways in the sky" like you see in the old Warner Brothers cartoons.

If you fly, you'll spend a lot less time travelling than you do now. It takes me half an hour to get from my house in Los Gatos down to the Apple campus. That's 1/2 hour that I'm on the road. Flying, that would probably be more like 10 minutes, tops. IOW, twenty minutes when I'm *not* in transit.

Traffic is a problem today, because you have so many people going to places near each other, and they all have to be funneled into the highways. With personal air travel, the congestion simply isn't necessary.


Re:History Repeating.. (1)

nsanit (153392) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595246)

So....there's a runway on the Apple campus? The way it read to me was that you would be able to get from runway to runway....

Re:History Repeating.. (2)

jcr (53032) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595256)

I'm thinking in terms of personal VTOL vehicles.

BTW, wouldn't it be nice if all the office buildings around here had lawns instead of paved parking lots?


Re:History Repeating.. (3, Insightful)

maroberts (15852) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595253)

There are lots of reasons for aircraft to follow highways in the sky, the main one being that some point to point routes are bound to be heavily congested. I for one would dread flying round New York if everyione was performing point to point flying. Anticipating what someone is going to to in mid air is extremely hard and remember that closure speeds are going to be much faster (400-1000mph!).

Traffic management can only do so much and the best software in the world is going to go into screaming fits trying to manage point to point flying. If it has some highway rules, then there is the possibility it can do it.

ep (-1)

crossbow_of_speed (527135) | more than 12 years ago | (#2594939)

early post

Back to the Future, Part II (1)

JayDiggity (70168) | more than 12 years ago | (#2594942)

Cool! This remind anyone of Back to the Future Part II where they go to 2015? We'd be a few years ahead, possibly! But where else are we going to find 1.21 gigawatts of power? It can't be done... unless I can get that flux capacitor off of eBay!

Re:Back to the Future, Part II (0)

0vi_king (514106) | more than 12 years ago | (#2594966)

Where we're going...we don't need roads.

I may be stupid, but I'm not synthetic.

bad enough (2, Insightful)

tiwason (187819) | more than 12 years ago | (#2594946)

Its bad enough to have cars clogging the roads....

Whats this going to come to...

- Can't see the sky... too many flying cars

- Try to get away from it all... go on a hike... flying cars are all over

- They start to leak oil and anti-freeze... watch out below.. (or litterbugs)

anyhow.... cars kill how many people each day ??? Fix what we got first.... and figure out the social impact before going ahead with this one..

(then again... could open up some great back-country skiing.. but what fun would that be)

Re:bad enough (-1, Offtopic)

tiwason (187819) | more than 12 years ago | (#2594955)

moderators must be smoking some good crack this morning.....

Re:bad enough (1)

TomK32 (411719) | more than 12 years ago | (#2594968)

- Can't see the sky... too many flying cars

I'm sure one can paint the cars that way that they are nearly invisible, some flat LCD which changes it color from blue to white (or grey if you live in a unhealty environment).

But some weeks later the first fleet of cars will write the newest Duff Beer slogan into the sky...

Re:bad enough (3, Interesting)

znu (31198) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595038)

As they discovered while trying to sneak up on subs during WWII, paint doesn't work. No matter what color you paint an aircraft, when it's far away it shows up as a black dot. You need illumination, which for this application would definitely be more trouble than it was worth.

Re:bad enough (2)

znu (31198) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595051)

Flying cars would probably be a good deal safer. There's a lot more room in the sky than on the highways. You wouldn't have to come anywhere near other vehicles or anything else you could crash into. You wouldn't be in a situation where getting distracted for a couple of seconds could kill people. And it would be much easier to implement computer control over everything. Now that I think about it, in light of recent events, you'd probably want mandatory computer control, so people couldn't fly the things into buildings....

Re:bad enough (1)

-brazil- (111867) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595288)

And not a single thought about resource usage... how typically american :)

Seriously though, plans like this are pretty ridiculous in the face of oil reserves that are going to last 150 more years at best and will become much more expensive to use long before.

What software will control them? (1)

Man Eating Duck (534479) | more than 12 years ago | (#2594952)

I sure hope it isn't windows... BSOD gets a whole new meaning....

Re:What software will control them? (-1)

I.T.R.A.R.K. (533627) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595147)

It can't be very dangerous if it can't even spell conceal. ;)

- I throw rocks at retarded kids

3D Driving (3, Interesting)

cosmosis (221542) | more than 12 years ago | (#2594953)

Many years ago when I was in Aerospace Engineering School and inspired by the movie Blade Runner, I designed a steerting mechanism that would make flying VTOL easy for anyone already skilled at driving a car. Right now typical airplane flight is quite complicated. My design was based on the notion that compuational power would catch up by the time my design would be feasible. The idea is simple:

For turning left or right you simply turn the steering wheel - the appropriate roll, pitch and yaw are calculated by the onboard computer. To increase or decrease altitute simply move the steering wheel in or out. As for speed, the standard gas and break pedals would speed up or slow the vehical down. This all results in an incredibly easy and intuitive control of a VTOL vehical. Want to come to a stop 100 feet up and then slowly lower the vehical down? First apply the breaks. The VTOL aircraft then comes to a stop, hovering at 100 feet. To lower the car to the ground, simply push the steering wheel in. The speed of decent can controlled by the onboard computer to insure that proper decent velocity is maintained.

Re:3D Driving (5, Informative)

pongo000 (97357) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595008)

You may be interested in knowing that such a system as you describe (well, except for the hovering part) as been around since the '40s. The Ercoupe [] doesn't have rudder pedals: On the ground, you steer it like a car (unlike conventional aircraft, in which you use the rudder pedals), and all turns are coordinated since rudder movement is tied to the yoke, which also controls the ailerons. Supposedly, it's nearly impossible to get the Ercoupe into a spin.

Re:3D Driving (1)

shaunak (304231) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595171)

"My design was based on the notion that compuational power would catch up by the time my design would be feasible. The idea is simple:"

Well, it is simple, unless it's restricted to Microsoft products (or even linux), in which case I'm sure the terrorists will fund research into these flying coffins.

Yes, I know the negative reference to linux means I'm going to be modded -6387594872497 Satan's Spawn.

Interesting (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2594954)

After reading the info, it looks like it has more to do with getting people to travel in small, possibly independently owned, airplanes, rather than "flying cars" per se. I'm all for it, though. I would love to own my own airplane, and I bet they'll get cheaper to buy in the long run also.

One thing I was thinking about though, is that high-speed chases will take on an entirely new meaning. Obviously there will be police airplanes protecting the skies, but will they be equipped with machineguns to take you down, or what? Those spike strips that they use on cars aren't gonna do a whole lot up in the air. And they can't just chase you until you run out of fuel, 'cause then you could crash into a neighborhood or something. Of course, they can't just knock you down either, or the same could happen.

There are also issues of licences. I don't know how hard it is to get a pilot's licence, but it looks like in order for something like this to work, they're going to have to make it easier, or find some way to intice people to get them.

One last thing. You know how when you watch the news in the morning, you hear about 4 or 5 accidents on the highway, in one day alone? How's that going to work for airplanes? They say that airplanes are the safest way to travel, but it seems to me they can make that claim because there are WAY fewer airplanes than cars. So if there are more planes, are you gonna hear about them dropping from the sky on the morning news? I wonder.

Still sounds badass, though. I'd love to travel by plane.

-- mesh

Safer Travel (1)

FatAlb3rt (533682) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595274)

The accident data of flying versus driving is usually stated on a per-passenger-mile basis, ie, if you have 200 people flying on a plane for 1000 miles, that's 200,000 safe miles. 40,000 people driving 50 miles would be equivalent.

Which scenario do you think would be more likely to have an accident?

I dunno.. (4, Funny)

PopeAlien (164869) | more than 12 years ago | (#2594958)

I've always heard you're statistically safer in an airplane 30,000 feet above the ground than you are in a car 30,000 feet above the ground..

Will these be hydrogen powered? The new Honda Zeppelin?

Re:I dunno.. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2595301)

Wanna screw someone's poll? []

Nah... (1)

AndroidCat (229562) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595316)

Anti-matter! The Honda Zappelin.

It'd sure make car-crashes interesting!

Whoa! (2, Insightful)

HaveBlue34 (142274) | more than 12 years ago | (#2594960)

Ok. first of all
Next thing I want to know is why this isn't already done? With a GPS and a transmitter you could upload a flight plan made with something similar to driving directions from to a FAA data base, have it approved and fly away on auto pilot. Why dont comercial airlines do this? Couldn't this replace air traffic control people? Taking off and landing would be the hardest part (don't think you can do that with an auto pilot, yet). I know people will post tons of great funny jokes about how bad people drive on the ground but if all this is done via autopilot type controls I don't see a problem. Those of you with pilots liscenses enlighten me please.

Re:Whoa! (2, Informative)

Ikari Gendou (93109) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595024)

It already is being done. Many small and large airports have GPS approach plates, and when the GPS is coupled to the Flight Management System (on airliners so-equipped), it can fly to any point of the hundreds of thousands of "fixes" in the sky.

The FAA is slowly moving towards open-air navigation using GPS. They recognize the ease in workload on both pilot and ATC with this in place. Unfortunatly, the occasional position error is a bad thing for air traffic. The FAA has started a program called Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS), which is a network of ground stations that take sattilite data, correct any signal errors, and beam the corrected data to the GPS onboard.

The only other problem is the fact that any aviation-certified GPS decks are usually pretty pricy. Expect GPS to explode over the coming years for aviation though.

GPS & FAA []

Re:Whoa! (3, Insightful)

FlyGirl (11285) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595310)

This isn't already there for many reasons.

First of all, innovation in the aviation field are VERY slow thanks to the liabilities involved. If someone introduces some new innovation and then a plane with that new device crashes, even if the pilot is drunk, the innovator gets sued. Almost ALWAYS happens and the innovater often loses with a multi-million dollar verdict. It's pretty easy to convince the non-pilot public that this new device/equipment was at fault.

Also, it just takes time to change such a system. Yes, they have planes that CAN fly themselves from start to finish (including take-off, landing and even taxi) but navigation is not the key role of controllers -- aircraft avoidance is.

A few more innovations need to be made in a system to allow aircraft to travel automatically AND avoid midairs. Not much has yet been done to automate that. It is only recently that the FAA has even required airlines to have the equipment to show the pilots directly where other planes are. Until just a few years ago, the controllers would tell the pilots where nearby aircraft were.

It'll still be a while before they couple this system to the autopilot and program it to find a path through the other aircraft. And that product will have serious potential liabilities should it ever make a "mistake".

Give it time... it'll happen.

Air Traffic Controllers (1)

Stripsurge (162174) | more than 12 years ago | (#2594963)

Aren't their jobs already stressfull enough without putting even more planes into the air? Or would we just see people fighting for rooftop parking spaces just like they do in cars.

What would the equivilent of road rage be? sky-rage? air-rage?

Re:Air Traffic Controllers (4, Funny)

mcpkaaos (449561) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595012)

What would the equivilent of road rage be? sky-rage? air-rage?

Dog-fights on the 405.



Great! (0)

Solokron (198043) | more than 12 years ago | (#2594965)

I can't wait to change my dog's name to Astro and my future son's name to Elroy!

Don't get so excited... (4, Insightful)

Jace of Fuse! (72042) | more than 12 years ago | (#2594972)

If I'm understanding this correctly -- even if it ever becomes a reality it won't be so much like everyone having their own personal flying aircraft as much as smaller commuter type services or the like. Instead of huge passenger jets that are best suited for flights over long distances, this sort of thing would be useful in small towns outside of larger cities requiring people to do more than an hours worth of driving to get to work every day. Not only would it reduce that but it would also increase the distance one could live from work. Instead of driving to work, or riding a bus every day, they simply swing down to the nearby landing strip and catch a ride on the next flight.

It seems like an obvious evolution in our transportation systems, really, since long commutes are getting more and more common and traffic is constantly getting worse.

Re:Don't get so excited... (2)

KarmaBlackballed (222917) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595159)

Look around you over a week of driving and you will see why a highway in the sky for personal commuting would be more like a highway of death:

1. Every car that you see on the side of the road that ran out of gas would be a plane falling out of the sky.

2. Every time you see an police or ambulance racing toward a traffic accident, that would be a pair of planes falling out of the sky.

Not to mention lots of cars on the road are barely in shape to be there... bad brakes, bad engines, bad paint jobs. If everyone had a personal flying vehicle we would eventually get a similar mix.

I think this idea will forever be a scene in "Metropolis" and nothing more.

Re:Don't get so excited... (1)

bpowell423 (208542) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595302)

Perhaps we should just make the aircars a little smarter. I think those little things called computers could easily calculate the distance from point A to point B and tell the passenger (as everyone would be passengers, not drivers) that there isn't enough gas in the tank to get to that destination. The computer could recommend getting the spare gas can out of the garage or suggest a layover at a gas station. Also, I expect that a radar system or some other automated means could prevent aircars from coliding. As far as the bad brakes, bad engines, etc., the computer could monitor such things and simply refuse to fly if things don't look safe. Obviously not failsafe, but anyway. Probably require routine mandantory aircar inspections, too.

I think some of these things would have to be done, because you are correct that if we put everybody up in Cessna 172's, we'd be in a mess.

Re:Don't get so excited... (1)

HCase (533294) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595303)

Neither of your points seem correct to me. The first one especially. You say that every car you see on the side of the road that ran out of gas would be a plan falling, why? How often to planes currently fall out of the sky because they don't have any gas? You alway say each accident would be like a plan falling from the sky. Again, why? There wouldn't be the same number of planes to cause congestion. And although there would be more than there are current airlines, they're not being flown by whoever feels like going out and buying one. Its a comuter service. They would be being kept in condition by a company that would have to be showing quality control to prevent things such as bad breaks and engines. If the idea gets put into use it could be really useful and I don't see that there would be many of the problems seen on the highways simply because they wouldn't be being driving by John Q. Public.

Problem with Flying Cars (0)

Blackneto (516458) | more than 12 years ago | (#2594973)

People will try to talk on their Dick Tracy wristwatches while trying to pilot/drive the flying cars. Causing not only a danger to other flying cars but the poor saps on the ground as well.
Of course this is Darwinism in action, which I am all for.


Oh great... (1)

XMode (252740) | more than 12 years ago | (#2594976)

Great, now I have to watch out for idiots cutting me off in a whole new dimension.. just what I need to keep my sanity.

Could provide a solution to road rage though, whose gonna try and punch out the guy stopped at the green light if you risk a 20 story drop.

More to it than that... (4, Informative)

pongo000 (97357) | more than 12 years ago | (#2594980)

Timmy, you're in way over your head on this one. Navigation is but a small part of flying. With GPS, one can travel directly from point A to point B. But no amount of navigational assistance will help those pilots who die because they run out of fuel. Or who die because they buzz Mom and Dad's farm, low and slow, suddenly find themselves in a stall they'll never recover from. Or who die because they think they can scud-run below the cloud deck, and then suddenly find themselves in the soup, all visual cues gone. You see, Timmy, there's much, much more to flying than simply cranking up the hangar queen every month, taking to the air, and letting a computer fly for you.

One of the reasons why I gave up flying and sold my plane was because of so many pilots who simply did not know how to look out the window. Or how to properly enter the airport traffic pattern. So many morons in the air, and let me tell you from both a pilot perspective and an air traffic control perspective (yes, I've done both), too many pilots depend on their computer gadgets to get from point A to point B.

Here's some perspective: Check out the NTSB [] aircraft accident site. Follow the links for monthly synopses. If you read enough of the accident reports (I've read many of them), you'll discover navigation is the least of the problems facing pilots today. Most pilots die for one of two reasons: They run out of fuel, or they fly into weather they aren't equipped or trained to handle.

NASA has been at the forefront of the Aviation Safety Reporting System [] (ASRS), and for that I commend them. But you're sadly mistaken, Timmy, if you believe we'll see general aviation become as simple and safe as "driving your car," as you put it. There are way too many other obstacles GA pilots face than how to get from Madison to Detroit. You do your readers a disservice by pretending navigation is the biggest problem us pilots face in the world.

I don't know about you, Timmy, but I think I'd much rather have a parachute recovery system [] for my small plane than a new nav system: The parachute will be far more useful to me when I'm involved in a midair collision with a pilot who's busy starting at his new cockpit computer rather than looking out the cockpit window.

Re:More to it than that... (3, Insightful)

NatePWIII (126267) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595009)

Your absolutely right, just think your driving down the freeway and your timing belt snaps after 130,000 miles (this happened to me on my last trip back from Canada while driving through Montana last year) of driving. No problem just slowly ease your car to the shoulder of the road, turning on your hazard lights and thumb a ride. Ok now lets parallel this to a small airplane... something goes wrong in your engine (I'm not an airplane engine expert so I won't go into details, however whatever the problem is it basically shuts down your engine) no problem you assume the correct glide angle for maximum decent time based on your airplane specs and your cargo weight, this can all easily be programmed into any advanced airplane with an onboard computer. Ok, so now we are descending at a safe rate now the next step, find a safe landing strip... not so easy. What if your flying over residential or urban areas? How about over a large body of water, better yet over a treacherous rocky mountain range. You get my point, ditching an airplane isn't as simple as some would like to think, something else to think about is how many small aircraft pilots have actually practiced a ditched landing without any engine power? I knew a seaplane pilot who had the luck of such a landing, some pranksters drained the fuel out of his tanks about 1 min. after takeoff his engine sputtered to a stop, he managed to land back on the same lake just brushing the tops of the Cedars as he glided in, five feet less altitude and he probably would have been dead. The point is that driving a car and an airplane cannot even be compared, there are alot of different variables that must be considered before mass transit via small airplanes should be considered.

Re: AAAArggghhhh!!! (0)

FyRE666 (263011) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595199)


It's "you're" meaning "you are", and NOT "your" which means "you possess". Out of interest, just what is the average age of a /. reader? 7rs old?

Re:More to it than that... (1)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595250)

You didn't notice the Skycar has eight engines and two parachutes?

Re:More to it than that... (1)

zmooc (33175) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595319)

Well; then engine-failure is probably not the reason for these things falling out of the sky, but computer etc. can also fail... and parachutes only help those inside (if they have enough time, that is) and not those at risk of getting the thing on their head. No matter how you put it: flying will always be a lot more dangerous than driving a car because cars won't fall out of the sky and cars only drive on 2D-roads, not 3D-unpaved-skies.

Re:More to it than that... (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2595042)

-2 Belittling Pongy. PongyPongyPongyPongy. Lets all bow down to the great pilot. Sheesh, what a butthead. Lord your pilotness over someone else, huh. I aint impressed.

Re:More to it than that... (2, Insightful)

Hee Hee Hee (310695) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595138)

Ten years ago, I was training for my private pilot's license. I soloed (what a rush!) and was given clearance by my instructor to leave the vicinity of the airport to go ten miles north to a practice area. One day, after practicing figure-8's, I turned south to head back to the airport. This was in the pre-GPS days, so navigation was all visual. I got lost and (unknowingly) ended up approaching the local military airbase. I heard the air-traffic controller call out to the airplane headed toward him to squawk a code on the transponder and thought to myself "What idiot is flying that close to the base?" The next thing I know, I see the airbase straight ahead! A quick 180, proper squawk, and an apologetic call to the controller straightened that out.

If I was flying an air-car and my GPS or computer went out, I'd have to depend on my "seat-of-the-pants" ability to get me safely down. My story illustrates how easy it is to get in trouble in the air. I'm usually a cautious and courteous driver. Seeing the morons on the road today, I'd be pretty nervous about flying with them, let alone have them fly over me!

I agree - air-cars are a LONG way off. Don't hold your breath.

Re:More to it than that... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2595290)

Timmy, you're in way over your head on this one.
Erm. All he did was mention the Moller skycar... I'm sure he is well aware of the points you make. We are a long way off from idiot-proof flying. Hell, we don't have idiot-proof driving yet, with all the people researching ways to remove the idiot factor from cars. Still, we can dream, can't we?

Another small thingy: why do you mention Timmys name like that every other sentence; it makes you sound like a patronising know-it-all, which doesn't help getting your (valid) points across.

Re:More to it than that... (1)

skyhawker (234308) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595309)

Another small thingy: why do you mention Timmys name like that every other sentence; it makes you sound like a patronising know-it-all, which doesn't help getting your (valid) points across.

You're right. Pretty demeaning tone, but he still manages to get mod'ed up to a 5.

Re:More to it than that... (2)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595297)

  • Timmy [...] no amount of navigational assistance will help those pilots who die because they run out of fuel. Or who die because they buzz Mom and Dad's farm, low and slow, suddenly find themselves in a stall they'll never recover from

What's with the diminitive names, Pongy?

If aircraft crash survivability matched the work put into cars over the years, we'd already mandate the parachute recovery systems you mentioned, along with substantial airbags on light aircraft, which goes some way to addressing your concerns. We have chosen not to do that. We have chosen to focus on expensive and ongoing rigorous preventative mechanical maintenance, which doesn't do a thing to help those pilots who suffer from the primary causes of terminal idiot rash that you mentioned.

If the Airbus A3x0 series can have a fly by wire autopilot that overrides the pilot and doesn't let him buzz the farm, why not light aircraft? Sure, it costs more, but in capital expenditure, which isn't the primary cost of flying.

Your argument is that flying is hard, and that the sky is already full of bumbling pilots. Fine, but that's an argument for stricter license tests. You haven't made any kind of cogent argument against the flight aids in the article, other than to say that the idiots who shouldn't be in the air now will find new and exciting ways to crash.

hmm environment? (4, Insightful)

jilles (20976) | more than 12 years ago | (#2594994)

It is bad enough to have regular airplanes burning thousands of tons of kerosine in our atmosphere every day. The effect of millions of cars burning extra fuel to stay airborne in addition to getting from A to B would be disastrous IMHO.

Then there's the issue of horizon pollution, imagine sitting in your backyard unable to escape the trafic that is passing right over it. In my country (The Netherlands) it is already hard to find a place where you can't see/hear regular trafic.

Then there's the issue of accidents and their consequences. Apart from probably being fatal for the people inside the flying car, heavy objects dropping from the sky may pose a danger themselves as well.

Re:hmm environment? (2)

znu (31198) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595069)

Run the planes on hydrogen. That makes crashes much less dangerous too. NYC would almost certainly still have its two tallest buildings if those planes had been fueled with hydrogen.

Re:hmm environment? (2)

isorox (205688) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595130)

The Hindenburg was hygrongen filled wasnt it?

Re:hmm environment? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2595154)

Please lets not start this crap again. It had a rocket-fuel-coated skin, there was a spark...

most hydrogen probably escaped right out of the top of it

Re:hmm environment? (2, Informative)

ShavenYak (252902) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595182)

The Hindenburg was hygrongen filled wasnt it?

Yes, and its skin was painted with rocket fuel [] , which was probably the real cause of the disaster.

Re:hmm environment? (2)

Rogerborg (306625) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595227)

  • The Hindenburg was hygrongen filled wasnt it?

Yes it was. The bydrogen didn't explode; it burned off rapidly and upwards [] . Unfortunately, the Hindenburgh was covered in aluminium based paint. Once you ignite aluminium, it burns with a dreadful intensity; it can be found in rocket fuel, napalm and thermite. The combination of hydrogen and aluminium was about sensible as that of aviation gasoline and aluminium in today's airliners, as we found out on September the 11th.

Of the ninety seven people on the Hindenburgh, thirty six died. That's pretty good odds for an exploding aircraft.

Re:hmm environment? (1)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595280)

"What if..." Oh, yeah. OK, if those planes had been fueled with hydrogen the broken fuel tanks would have spewed liquid hydrogen down inside and outside the building, with gaseous hydrogen going upward. If the resulting mix went through an explosive level around the fires, the resulting fuel-air blast could have killed everyone inside the two buildings and for several blocks in all directions. The buildings would have only had to withstand being in the center of an explosion, rather than being exposed to fire for an hour. "What If..."

Re:hmm environment? (2)

jcr (53032) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595247)

The effect of millions of cars burning extra fuel to stay airborne in addition to getting from A to B would be disastrous IMHO.

For short hops, flying point to point would probably beat driving for fuel consumption. It's very rare that you can travel in anything like a straight line to your destination when you're driving somewhere.

Secondly, consider the situation where traffic on roads is reduced to heavy trucks only, because most passenger traffic is in the air: The trucks don't get into jams, so they can usually run their engines close to their peak efficiency.

Thirdly, what if our major highways no longer needed eight lanes of traffic? That's a enormous amount of road work (read: diesel fumes) that no longer needs to be done.


Re:hmm environment? (2)

jilles (20976) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595282)

I strongly doubt that planes can be as fuel efficient as cars (assuming that they have similar weight). Also you need facilities to land and take off which will likely not be in your backyard. So you still need a car to get to and from the airport and that sort of makes short hops unfeasible since you might as well drive to your destination instead of the airport.

I also doubt that trafic on the ground would reduce much since planes are probably going to be toys for the rich. Also the amount of trafic tends to grow if you increase the capacity of the infrastructure.

Re:hmm environment? (1)

bpowell423 (208542) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595314)

There are plenty of ways to make a VTOL aircar that could take off and land in a space the size of your garage. Just imagine garage doors on the top, not the front. Obviously, for so many reasons, everybody can't be flying 40-year old Cessena 172's around. Aircars will eventually be a reality. There's simply too much money to be made for someone not to perfect the idea.

Toys for the rich? So were automobiles.

Re:hmm environment? (1)

SEWilco (27983) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595266)

Well, if every car is replaced by Skycars there will be fewer airliners buzzing around and burning fuel. The Skycar might get 30 MPG, which is similar to many current automobiles, and can do more point-to-point travel rather than having to zigzag on existing roads. Can you do the math for your next comment?

And let's hope the parachutes tend to get used after an accident, to slow the falling objects.

(Yes, I know the Skycar was estimated to get 15 MPG, but you might have missed the new wing design and the doubled MPG estimate)

Re:hmm environment? (2)

jilles (20976) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595305)

30 mile per gallon is not as quite as efficient as a modern car (i'm not talking about the petrol devouring monsters you people drive in the US). So if you replace all cars with planes you get a huge increase in fuel consumption (under the arguably wrong assumption that the amount of trafic would stay stable).

Replacing all cars with planes is unlikely to happen and airlines generally operate on distances which would be well beyond the range of a skycar so they would continue to exist. Point to point travel is only possible if you have airstrips at each point (which is not the case).

Re:hmm environment? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2595283)

Small prop planes typically get 15-20mpg (straight line distance), and larger planes only get more efficient (except at very high speeds), just like buses.

That's with the current generation of small airplanes, whose engines have not changed significantly since the 1950s due to product liability and government regulation. Soon we'll be updating to 1970s technology (, at 20-40% fuel savings. If governmental & litigation constraints were removed, fuel savings could be expected to follow the very positive curve seen in the automotive industry over the last 25 years.

This also applies to noise--slow turning diesel cycle engines (which burn normal jet fuel, not diesel fuel) and 3 blade props are technologies that are ready to make things quieter, we just need to ease constraints on the industry.

Inventiveness (0)

OnyxIR (456300) | more than 12 years ago | (#2594999)

Those guys who hand out flyers at intersections are going to have to get real inventive! But they can always get a few pointers from South African Hijackers (those guys can jack ANYTHING!)

What's the point? (3, Insightful)

vscjoe (537452) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595005)

I don't quite see the point of short-hop mass air transportation. A well-designed rail system is more efficient, less noisy, safer, and more environmentally friendly. And we could, gasp, move closer to where we work.

To me, this sounds like NASA is grasping at straws trying to prove its relevance. But developing tech toys won't cut it, I suspect.

Re:What's the point? (3, Interesting)

sigwinch (115375) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595080)

A well-designed rail system is more efficient, less noisy, safer, and more environmentally friendly.
Rail is violently expensive. Profit margins tend to be low even in densely-populated areas.
To me, this sounds like NASA is grasping at straws trying to prove its relevance. But developing tech toys won't cut it, I suspect.
The problems that need to be solved for mass aviation are identical to many highly-relevant military problems: cruise missiles need to be able to autonomously navigate with 10 meter precision using terrain observation and inertial guidance (GPS simply doesn't *ever* work reliably), fighter/bombers need to land with a precision of a couple of meters on carriers, unmanned warplanes need to follow carefully-planned paths in the air, and so forth.

Remember that speculative gold-plated bleeding-edge military R&D will be civilian bread & butter in twenty years. I think NASA is just beginning the obvious commercialization work. Even if it doesn't quite pan out for 'flying cars', the work directly applies to making conventional jet lines more efficient, safer, and more flexible.

The aviation industry has a slow rate of improvement anyway. If you want to deploy massive improvements in 50 years, you need to start the preliminary work today. No, I'm not exaggerating. Aviation equipment and procedure life cycles are **EXTREMELY LONG** (where are <blink> tags when you need 'em?). For instance, the last B-52H heavy bomber was delivered in 1962, but they are expected to remain in service until 2035.

Re:What's the point? (3, Insightful)

vscjoe (537452) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595128)

Rail is violently expensive. Profit margins tend to be low even in densely-populated areas.

Rail, when widely deployed, is intrinsically cheaper than air travel. What makes rail expensive relative to other modes of transportation in the US is poor utilization, low-volume production of the components, poor integration, lengthy and costly legal and political fights when trying to build new rail lines, and subsidies and failure to account for the true costs of automobiles and air travel.

You can't "grow your way" into rail travel and hope that it's cost effective from its smallest beginnings to a large scale deployment. If you insist on incremental adoption of a technology, you automatically favor auto and air travel, which have much lower infrastructure costs and can be deployed one vehicle at a time. Unfortunately, the ultimate cost of having 300 million people rely on cars and airplanes are horrendous.

The problems that need to be solved for mass aviation are identical to many highly-relevant military problems: cruise missiles need to be able to autonomously navigate with 10 meter precision using terrain observation and inertial guidance

That seems like another good reason not to undertake that kind of development effort: I can do well without both personal aircraft and without another generation of cruise missiles.

If you want to deploy massive improvements in 50 years,

Actually, I'd prefer to see short and medium range air travel, as well as the personal automobile, be largely replaced in 50 years by rail, high speed ferries, automatic taxies, walk-up car rentals, pedestrian and bicycle zones, and telecommuting. Those are technologically far simpler and have clear benefits.

Re:What's the point? (1)

bpowell423 (208542) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595285)

obviously you live in or near a city. Rail, taxies, car rentals, bicycle zones all work great in high concentrations of people, but most of the land-mass of the USA and probably half the population don't live in highly populated areas. Trains and subways everywhere work great in Tokyo, Chicago, NY, London, etc., but not so well in the middle of Kansas, Texas or Tennessee. What would be the cost of putting train stops within walking distance of everyone in New York or New Jersey vs putting train stops withing walking distance of everyone in Kansas? This is why we will always have personal transportation in the USA, at least. Now, safe personal (automated?) air travel? That'd be great! I could make it to work in 5 minutes instead of the 30 minutes that it currently takes me to wind down the mountain and get to work. I certainly won't be waiting for the train to take me to work in my lifetime.

Re:What's the point? (1)

jeff_bond (135948) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595232)

And we could, gasp, move closer to where we work.

Better still, we could work closer to where we live, i.e. work at home. Lots of people spend nearly all day in a cube, sat in front of a computer. I can do that just as easily at home.


Re:What's the point? (3, Informative)

jcr (53032) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595261)

A well-designed rail system is more efficient, less noisy, safer, and more environmentally friendly.

You'd think so, wouldn't you?

Unfortunately, railways are only more efficient if you think strictly in terms of the rolling resistance of steel wheels on steel rails. (Which, btw, is VERY noisy). There's a reason why passenger trains rarely make money: they're slow, they're inconvenient, rail maintenance is horrendously expensive, and let's not forget that when you get a large number of people together in a metal can, you have an ideal target for a Sarin gas attack.


But what about the Springfield Interchange??? (2, Interesting)

House of Usher (447177) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595017)

I know this might as a shock for you all, but don't you think that NASA needs to do some coordinating with the Virginia Department of Transportation? I mean, they've just sunk all this money into a 14 year project to help relieve traffic around the beltway interchange here in Springfield, Virginia...
All kidding aside, seriously, think about the security issues you have here. By having little flying vehicles everywhere, we run into the problem of basically being able to let anyone take their car and get into airspace that is restricted. Sure, their might be klaxons going off and the vehicles computer might be saying, "You are in restricted airspace, please turn around" and sure you migth even have security features to change the course, but people will get around them. In my humble and very honest opinion it's a bad move.

Furthermore, not even thinking about the aspect of terrorism through air cars, what about the problem of accidents? I know I know, I'm jumping ahead of what the technological specifications of this are, but think about how bad some of these accidents could turn into it. It wouldn't just be that there was a midair collission, but also that the wreckage might take out some neighborhood. Hmmm, I'm seeing problems here my friends...

That's my story and I'm stickin' to it...

No way (2, Insightful)

sluggie (85265) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595019)

I can't imagine that this is going to work in a sane way.
Even in "professional" aviation navigating via GPS is only a BACKUP system, not the regular case. Still flying via VORs, NDBs and ISECs is essential.

How should Mr. John Doe learn when to go around, or what to do in very bad weather conditions.. How are they going to keep the civil and this "private" aviation apart?

How is Mr. John Doe going to pay for thes "driving/flying" licence (which won't be cheap, I'm sure)?

How can we decide who is allowed to fly, how can we be sure he is not going to insure/kill others?

Don't you think that with everybody and his brother/mother/etc using this system an reasonable amount of chaos is going to arise?

Re:No way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2595293)

Any pilot with a decent GPS will tell you that even though VORs, etc, must be used for backup, their GPS rapidly becomes the primary source of navigation.

Possible use ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2595026)

Wouldn't really small aircraft be good for hitting really small skyscrapers?

9-11, anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2595040)

Only an idiot would think anything like this would actually get off the ground while the hysteria over the September 11th attacks is still going on. We're going to have every safety nazi group in the country telling us that there will be a rash of terrorists flying their flying cars into tall buildings ... and you know, they might actually be right.

Re:9-11, anyone? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2595291)

A Skycar can only carry 700 pounds, so it won't be carrying nearly as much fuel as a widebody jet. As terrorists already know, it's easy to use a truck to deliver an explosive close enough to a target.

What about the beaters... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2595046)

The last thing I need is some guy flying in front of me with his car smoking like he's selling barbecue.

Similar ideas in the Farnborough F1 (4, Interesting)

alext (29323) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595059)

Just as I was reading this thread, Richard Noble (the guy who took the land speed record a while ago) was on a radio phone-in over here telling people about his plan for independent travel using his Farnborough F1 [] plane. (Hmmm, hope the plane goes faster than Richard's web site...)

He says:

"...enter the Farnborough F1 air taxi, which flies point to point faster than a congested airliner and the Farnborough integrated Ops system, which will enable you to book your on demand travel zipcode to zipcode off the web. This means you can be picked up by a ground cab from your office or home, meet up with the F1 at a local airfield and arrive at your postcode destination 1000 miles away in under 4 hours door to door. That's about half the airline time and the best bit is yet to come. The whole activity is low stress with costs comparible to a business class airline fare and you need never go to a major airport again for short-haul travel!

Key to all this is the importance of avoiding self deception. Constantly we check each other out - Have we got this right? Is there some fatal flaw in the project which means that it can never succeed? So far the only real problem is the very difficult finance - the rest is do-able. We can also take great confidence in the fact that NASA has come up with much the same ideas, though with different emphasis for their SATS (Small Aircraft Transportation System programme) which they believe will treble airspace travel capacity."

Gotta love these plucky inventor types!

But but... (-1, Offtopic)

Corporate Troll (537873) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595060)

...I do already fly...I don't even need a car/plane! Where is my bong?

A skycar should not be a plane... (1)

powerlinekid (442532) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595063)

Planes aren't the design i'd be looking at for a "skycar". I think that if nasa really wants to do something new, maybe they'd look into hover crafts. I'm thinking end result like the Jetsons or the Fifth Element. They are possible (look at the hover trains being developed), just not probable any time soon for mass use. The problem with a plane is that if it crashes in air... its going one way, down. And as previously stated large objects falling from high altitudes usually do some damage. With the hover car, if it crashes... then well... it hovers right where it crashed. Of course I wouldn't want to step out and check the damage, might want to wait for the hover taxi for that ;-).

Re:A skycar should not be a plane... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2595299)

You didn't look at the Skycar, did you? It takes off vertically, "like the Jetsons or the Fifth Element". It also has parachutes and many engines to reduce complications. I think you're referring to a ground-effect hovercraft, which is nothing like the Jetsons as it's only a thing without wheels that has to be within a few feet of the ground.

Broken Ground? (1)

redcliffe (466773) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595066)

Have any of these flying cars yet broken ground? I can see the point of working out the rules before they do, but it will be a while yet. I don't think the Moller Skycar flies yet, and I haven't seen any others that do. When will we see one that really flies?


This has been going on for years... (1)

powerlinekid (442532) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595074)

Come on people... lets not forget the hippies. They've been flying in cars for years, all fueled on organic chemicals.

Dangerous missiles (1)

taleman (147513) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595123)

Would weapons restrictions apply for those flying cars? If they become commonplace, terrorist need not bother with hijacking airplanes, just getting some cars and loading them full of casoline is enough of a missile for crashing into buildings.

Furthermore, I can't see that those cars could be successfully flown by any less training that is currently needed for a pilots license. By successfull I mean flying without getting killed or destroying property.

Re:Dangerous missiles (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2595315)

Terrorists have already shown that ground cars and trucks can deliver a lot more explosive than any small plane can.

And if you'll read the Skycar info you'll see that the computers will deal with navigation and attitude -- tell it your destination, take off manually straight up, and turn on the autopilot to have it take you to your destination. The computers will deal with flight plans, ask you which place you want to stop for fuel/food, and not let you flip the plane (even when on manual -- unless you've bought the "Acrobatic" package and presented the appropriate license to the computer).

Atlantic Online (1)

osmac (24461) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595217)

The Atlantic Monthly published an article about new small, safer planes and what NASA plans to do with them. s. htm

High quality stuff, as most of them articles there.

New Book, same theme, same author: 5

Hmmm.. (1)

sluggie (85265) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595218)

I guess the whole thing about the dangers of this thing comes from the well known fact that if you step into the break while driving a normal car, you'll just stop and you're more or less save.
If you decrease the speed of a plane to much you'll stop too, but you'll tumble down and be more or less dead...

NASA? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2595221)

Is this the same NASA that doesn't want tourists in space?

ikarus... (1)

sluggie (85265) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595233)

I don't want to know what happens if someone looks how far up one of those SATS planes can go. Talk about tourism in space ;)

What about the people that can't drive now? (1)

sawilson (317999) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595265)

I'm ok with sky driving on one big condition. The test you have to take has to be hard as hell. I could officially kill this idea by rounding up members of congress, putting them on a schoolbus, and taking a field trip to Atlanta in the morning. I'd close off the top of spaghetti junction, park there, and hand out binoculars.
Drunk drivers would immediately lose their driving priveledges forever. No debate. Vehicle inspections would have to be monthly. Litigation would be through the roof. Good lord. There is no way this would work. Imagine the people you are on the road with in the morning piloting a one ton aircraft at high speed. I'm personally of the opinion that better testing should be implemented now long before we make it into the sky. Your score should have bearing on when you have to test next. Hand eye coordination tests should be taken into account. Age should no longer matter. As long as somebody can reach the petals and pass the very hard tests, they should be able to drive. If not, insurance is going to be so high that only the ultrarich will be able to buy skycars. They might as well start requiring people to take a test before they are allowed to get married or have kids. :) That would probably do the most to make the roads safer.

More info in Atlantic article (2, Informative)

Huzzah-TN! (538096) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595270)

An article a few months ago (and available
on-line) has far more details: s. htm

(Warning: long and fascinating!)

Some quotes:

"Today more than 80 percent of all airline traffic takes off from or lands at one of the fifty busiest airports, and most of it at the twenty-four major hubs. ... Weather delays in one part of the country have ripple effects thousands of miles away."

"for the foreseeable future small planes will make a difference mainly if they constitute the operating fleet for a new national system of air taxis. A supply of inexpensive, safe, comfortable small planes, flown by hired pilots and available at rates comparable to today's coach air fares, could bring freedom and convenience to a broader share of the traveling public"

"The most important all-weather component is a precision-landing system, which lets pilots safely descend for a landing even if clouds are within a few hundred feet of the ground. Some 1,200 of the nation's public airports already have precision-landing systems. Holmes argues that if landing systems and air-traffic-control services were installed at many more airports, they could collectively handle some 500 million takeoffs and landings a year (versus 37 million now) without building a single new runway"

"Before the FAA will certify a plane, the manufacturers must show that a pilot can bring the plane out of a spin. The SR20 met this standard through a combination of spin resistance and the parachute, which would arrest the fall within 1,000 feet of where the handle was pulled--less altitude than planes typically lose when recovering from a spin."

"in the summer of 1997 Williams was able to display a preview version of his new engine...achieved the nine-to-one thrust-to-weight ratio previously thought unattainable. The combined weight of the engines for a twin-engine jet could be less than 200 pounds. Suddenly it seemed practical to design a four-to-six-person jet that could land at small fields and would be relatively inexpensive to build."

The article also talks about things like safety, new runways, pollution, etc. Good read.

-- hsun

WTC (1)

clinko (232501) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595273)

Anyone remember that WTC thingy that happened a few months back? and OH YEAH, the other plane crash about a week ago...

Those planes were flown by professionals and people are scared to fly. You think the average Joe will trust a computer to fly them?

What if your "car" breaks down. You crash, you take out a small neighborhood.

Flying Cars (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 12 years ago | (#2595277)

I guess they saw that IBM commercial.

"Flying Cars! Where are the flying cars?"

It sends me back to the 50's (2)

famazza (398147) | more than 12 years ago | (#2595307)

When everybody used to believe that at year 2000 cars would be obsolete, and we all would fly. tsc tsc tsc.

But that'll be funny. I'll like to see what kind of ideas and/or design will show up. Will they be just like the 50's?

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