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raffaele grieco

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Ultralight planes: a possible future for medium to long distance mass trasportation?

Cheap, easy to pilot, easier to mantain.

ULM aircrafts are modern, two seated, car gas propelled planes, usually flown for leisure and turism. An entry level two seated plane can cost as much as a good scooter, costs a fraction of a general aviation plane to buy and mantain, can fly @200kmh at cruise speed, have an average of 500km range and can take off land anywhere from 500 mt grass strips (some can land on river shores and open sea, too). In Italy there are almost 150 privately held airstrips are available mostly free for landing fees, together with all the minor and medium airports open for general aviation planes.

So, why dont think of it as a means of personal and family transportation for medium to long distances? If we consider an average 4 hr car trip, depending of how far your nearest airstrip could be, and another one at your destination point, and commuting from these two places, it could be faster and cheaper to get there by your own plane.

What are the main problems against this idea, today? Weather, because they need good weather to fly; State endorsement: because, as it is, air transport belongs solely to air companies and thus airports and other facilities, even if airspace within a national domain are State properties properties, and also because car industry lead many countries economies like US, Germany, France, Japan and Italy. Security: in aviation, security is a scarecrow that keeps people away, make them spend much more, makes a tragedy of each and every event. The impossible of making a human activity riskless is killing personal aviation, leaving only the big players. If aviation security were applied to cars, they would cost tenfold and a fraction would ever hit the roads.

If proper investment were available, i think a cheap 4-seated all-weather ultralight plane, with a S-trasponder, and enough technology onboard to dumb piloting processes down to those required to drive a car could be within reach in a very short time

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    Aug 2 2013: Look at the LA freeway at 7:20 AM on a workday. Imagine every four cars being replaced by a ULM with no brakes or hovering ability zooming along 150 feet in the air. That is a horrifying image! Back to the drawing board, please.
    • Aug 2 2013: ahaha, ok, now do the effort to think it tridimensionally. no lanes, there's lots of up, not so much down, and waaay lefts and rights to fit everybody.
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        Aug 2 2013: Thanks anyway, but I prefer to economize on effort by doing a preliminary assessment looking specifically for assured failure of an idea. In this case I see chaotic traffic conditions as assured failure. Your solution for collision avoidance is "tridimensional laneless" corridors? Have you considered the air traffic control system? Have you considered take-off and landing requirements? Have you considered parking requirements both at home and at work? Have you considered the results of minor contact between two, or more, ULM's?....(they all accelerate vertically toward the ground at 32-fps squared). Please, for the sake of humanity, get back to the drawing board.
        • Aug 2 2013: my solution for collision avoidance in a heavily packed traffic corridor is the same that works today: transponder mode S with a TCAS, plus see and avoid. I remind you that we are talking about medium to long distance travel. Nothing a liner does an ULM cannot do swifter.


          I do know that contacts between two airplanes always end with dramatic effect, but also contact between motorbikes and anything bigger than a standing stone does. So what? Don't hit anything, don't do anything stupid.

          And keep in mind i am talking about today's ULM. Light airplanes havent got much farther than post WWII planes, they go faster, engines are lighter, control are easier, but the technology is pretty still the same. Commuting ULMs, or just ULm as a means of mass transportation may carry any utility and gadget to ease the travel, including better systems to help avoiding collisions or limiting its effects.

          Think as today's ULM as cars from the 1900: donkeys and horses still had an easier way around, so many bad streets, and what about reliability of those damned machines going at those maddening speeds, 50 kmh, are they crazy? what if they lost control? What if they run over someone? Today ULMs are better pioneers that those coaches-with-an-engine. And besides, the sky is big to hold everybody.
      • Aug 5 2013: If your solution to congestion is everybody spread out left right up and down then you are creating a chaotic environment. To really imagine what would happen you should simulate this.
        You will have to have some buffer space between vertical lanes and left and right traffic. If people can just go directly to their destination then that becomes more difficult.
        If I want a high lane, I have many lower lanes to cross with potential executions at every crossing. If I am going on a course of 320 degrees magnetic I may be crossing dozens of other lanes of people going in other vectors and directions at the same altitude.
        I would think that the level of sophistication that navigational software, radar and gps tracking transponders would require before I will fly with the monkeys currently driving on our roads would have to be on the level of independent flight. That is, if the software can fly there itself, I might consider going along. Otherwise I would rather walk.
        • Aug 5 2013: the solution that exists now is dividing odd and even flight levels for southbound and northbound traffic (or east bound and west bound, depending on the countries). Whether travelling or not on an airway, spacing on airways provided by air traffic control can keep people 1 mile apart vertically and half a mile apart horizontally.

          Moreover, there is a tool called TCAS, which is installed onboard: its a sort of passive proximity radar that reads other transponders around the plane and warns if other planes are coming too close.

          Transponder mode S allows a much better visualization for traffic controllers, allowing to receive up to 25 foot increments and 24bit of datastream. If you go to sites like flightradar24.com you will see all planes using mode S transponders around the world.

          This is the state of the art TODAY. This is what we can do TODAY. It pretty dull to take a technology as it is now (and it works, nonetheless) and apply it as it is to the worst case scenario. It took 2 hundred years of investments for the car industry to invent ABS, ESP, airbags or winter tires, as well as traffic lights, traffic laws and driving school syllaba.

          When the need arise, the industry will kick in with better planes and better technology, because revenues and competition will urge everybody to take better care of pilots.

          Just ask yourself: in my next mid to long range car travel, what if i took a small plane? Would it be better or worse? What if -not hundred thousand people, just a hundred, as in the most responbile guess one can make if today my idea were magically known to everybody and turned out to be a huge success- what if a hundred planes were flying in your same general direction, not specifically on the same spot you meant to go, would that affect you?

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