STATE OF THE ART -- Part 4 -- * Design Philosophy & the Marketplace
FROM THERE...... TO HERE......... TO WHERE?.....
Alaska has 1.3 active pilots per 100 adult residents--six times more than the US average, and considerably more than the world average. Other countries with large and remote land masses also show such regional differences. Still, one in eighty is a long way from the numbers one would expect in the world the Jetsons come from. Consider that, by comparison, the national average for motorcycles is roughly 3.0 per hundred, or one in thirty-three. Will the Personal Flyer dream ever come to fruition? The corporate/institutional answer is yes. It will be a top-down, automated system of air delivery, run like a taxi service or perhaps doing away with the pilot completely. And believe it or not, such a scenario might come true; assuming our technological society continues to thrive, it just becomes a question of when. In the meantime there is a competing force; a grassroot movement of individuals who are passionate about theexperiencing of flight . Given that the vast majority of innovations and advancements have originated within this grassroots sector, one would do best not bet against it. The approaches are different too; the NASA-types favour multiple, powerful powerplants, redundant, computer-controlled systems, automatic guidance and a surplus of electronics. The result may fly well, even though heavy, but flying is complex for the average person. Since, on a vehicle of this type, any malfunction would be catastrophic, the reliance is on reducing potential malfunctions to a statistical improbability; (an approachwhich makes many feel uncomfortable).
The do-it-yourself crowd has evolved along different lines; Within three years of the Wrights' historic 1903 flight, plans and parts were being sold for Bleriot, Voisin, and Demoiselle biplanes with the idea of "experimental aircraft" being enthusiastically promoted by illuminaries such as Santos Dumont, Glenn Curtiss, and the Wrights themselves. During the 30's the advent of kit-planes such the (ill-fated) Pou du Ciel drove sales of homebuilts to outshine sales of factory airplanes. The post-war surplus of pilots and aircraft caused a surge in personal flying but once this hump in the market worked through, it predictably overan---causing a sudden increase in the cost of flying instruction and planes. This led to an equally predictable resurgence in lower-cost alternatives and experimentation. In the 60's and 70's new concepts emerged, such as the powered hang-glider, which led to something of a golden-age for low-cost recreational flying; finally, it had become as inexpensive a the family car. Today the adventure continues with a constant stream of exiting new designs, such as the stall-less 'canards' by rocketeer Burt Rutan. At the present time, more than half of the existing General Aviation fleet is comprised of homebuilt and kit-built aircraft. (Although, once again, costs have crept upwards to a level that disenfranchises a large proportion of would-be weekend aviators.)
While it remains to be seen what effect the new regulatory category, "Light Sport Aircraft" will have on innovation, there are several market-driven trends that offer clues as to the near-future evolution of General Aviation. The new LSA category will offer opportunities for manufacturers to profit from the more expensive, faster, bigger airplanes and, presumably, the faster, bigger and more expensive models of any future Vtol-capable entries as well. Doing the same with a low-priced, entry-level and certified Vtol recreational flyer, however, will be more difficult , but not necessarily impossible--especially given the expected reduction in manufacturers insurance premiums that a Safe-Descent Lift-Jet type vehicle would command. Only a few aircraft can be classified as Ultralight, or Experimental, or as (certified) Light Sport Aircraft--and the Lift-Jet is one of them. It has a special advantage because the 254 pound limit for 'ultralight' does not include 'safety devices' (the Lift-Jets' "Descent Vanes"); neither does it include the weight of floatation, if amphibious. There is a huge advantage to being able to market such a craft under any of the existing categories. "Ultralight' requires neither certification or a pilots licence, whereas an 'LSA' designation permits a higher-performance, 2-seat or multi-seat vehicle. Sport pilots can obtain additional training to enter more congested classes of airspace, or specific airports, or to fly specific airplanes, then have their Certificates endorsed accordingly. One can only wish the FAA well in its stated goal of 'globalizing' these new standards and certification mechanisms. This regime provides "full coverage", with a scalable level of safety oversight from none (ultralight class)--up to rigid standards arrived at by federal agencies working co-operatively with private maufacturers.
The arrival of the LSA category has made exact numbers hard to pin down, but as of 2005-6, the global ultralight/experimental and kit-built sectors, including training and ancilliary, follow-on sales, was reckoned at 35 billion dollars US. While the past decade has seen a relatively flat market, in 2014 the FFA reported in "Barons Market Watch" that recreational flying contributed 81 billion/year to the US economy, and there are early signs of another grassroots resurgence. Perhaps this time the manufacturers will decide to participate by offering low-cost, 'everymans flyers'--as opposed to focusing exclusively on luxury commuters, sport-planes and personal jets, as has been the case.
In the near-future the Lift-Jet, whether produced as an FAR Part 103 Ultralight, or certified under the LSA program, will be sharing its airspace with small helicopters and gyros, and fixed-wing aircraft that are; Easy-to-Fly; have Stable and Forgiving Flight Characteristics; are Inherently Safe; Easily Transportable; Capable of Operating from Very Small and Rough Fields or Amphibious; and Simple in Design, Construction and Operation (eg: Weight-Shift Controlled). These preferences are well-established and can be seen in the increasing numbers of stall-less canards, tandem-wing, box-wing, flying wing, and circular-wing designs that are now flying. Increasingly, along with those types already mentioned, new types will appear--including tiny airships with blended wing/lifting body planforms, and wild cards such as foot-launched ornithopters and electric backpack helicopters. Electric ground-launched gliders, novel schemes for redirected thrust hoverers, and most especially, helicopter platforms having torque-less rotors (either autorotating coaxial or autorotating self-propelled) The advent of these novel types will serve to keep interest high--even if they do not make great inroads into the marketplace. That particular role will be reserved for the Lift-Jet, as people become increasingly cognizant of its inherent safety and ease-of-operation. Doubling or tripling the size of the existing Ultralight Fleet through Lift-Jets sales is a realistic goal.
Though not a true aircraft, the towed para-sail is, hands-down, the worlds' most popular flying conveyance; it has become the no. 1 fastest growing activity at resorts around the globe. Similar, or related activities, such as kite-surfing and jet-boarding, are also coming rapidly into their own, The ubiquitous poularity of the para-sail makes it a special case, worthy of close examination. How is it that even the smallest lake-side resorts can book 80-100 flights per day? With several "In-Flight Weddings" to boot? The answer is: psychology. Take an ordinary parachute, stuff it tightly into a nylon sack, then go on the street and offer to pay for the first hundred people to have a free "skydive". How many takers, do you think?
OK.... now take that same parachute, but now you are at a lakeside resort, with the 'chute' gently billowing in the breeze. There's a long line-up and the chidlren who were just getting harnessed ahead of you are laughing hysterically as they rise slowly above the waves. What's changed? Well, its the context. In the first instance, the mental image produced by the 'mind's eye' is "How does that huge chute come out of that little sack? It will get stuck." Or, "All those lines will get tangled up, I just know it." Or, "I'm strapping that on and jumping out of a plane?"" See, anyway they envision it (except for the odd "adrenaline junkie" maybe) it is a nightmare! On the other hand, as a parasail, they are confronted with undeniable visible proof that, already inflated, the worst that can happen is if their tow stops moving, they will descend slowly for a dunk in the lake. Literally, they can see that it is actually physically impossible for the parachute to come down much faster than a thistledown. POOF! any psychological barrier that might have existed is gone--which is why hardly anyone objects to giving parasailing a try. At our nearby resort, they've flown clients from 6 to 96. We at Aeromancer Flight Design Inc., maintain that there is a direct equivelance, psychologically, between the parasail and the Lift-Jet. Going forward, our intention is to emphasise that equivelance. This can be accomplished, in part, by including a "towed-flight" component to the flight training syllabus, thus allowing pilots to gain confidence quickly, in complete safety. "Lift-Jet" is the 1st parachute-plane; the SAFETY FLYER with the only patented Aerodynamic Descent-Vane System!