Suburban 'pocket airports' proposed

December 20, 2010 by Lin Edwards, report

An idealized pocket airport. Aircraft depicted are motor-gliders that have 50 foot wingspan. Image credit: CAFE
( -- A proposal has been put forward by the CAFE foundation that a network of small suburban airports should be developed in the future for the use of Suburban Air Vehicles.

Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency (CAFE) is a light-aircraft partner of NASA, and is running a US$1.65 million competition, the Green Flight Challenge, to find the best design for a short take-off personal that uses little fossil fuel, is cheap to run, and is quiet in operation. The competition will be judged in Santa Rosa, California in July 2011.

CAFE envisages that Suburban Air Vehicles (SAVs) will become a common mode of transport in the future, with flights landing and taking off at small suburban "pocket airports." (PDF) CAFE's president, Dr. Brien Seeley, speaking at the Future of conference in San Jose, California earlier this month, said it was shocking that after a century of flight aviation has still failed to fulfill the dream of moving people fast, without needing roads.

Dr. Seeley said the travel on the ground to and from airports often negated the time saved by flying, but having pocket airports to fly travelers to the main city airport from tiny suburban airports would considerably speed up the process. Passengers would fly in two to four-person SAVs operated (on autopilot) by air taxis or shuttle services. (Read: Puffin: the one-person electric aircraft (w/ Video))

The Green Flight Challenge is NASA's first step in developing a new infrastructure for aviation, featuring small auto-piloted aircraft. Challenge vehicles will need to operate safely and achieve at least 1.18 L/100 km . They will have a take-off distance of no more than 610 meters to clear a 15-meter obstacle, travel at 160 kph, and emit less than 78 decibels measured from 76 meters away. Each SAV would be equipped with parachutes. Dr. Seeley said he envisaged vehicles would be designed in future that did considerably better than the minimum requirements.

Dr. Seeley said the SAV would offer pilots fast travel with a de-conflicted air highway through the sky taking them directly where they wanted to go. Flight paths would be coordinated via a central control system to avoid collisions. Dr. Seeley said the system would allow people to travel in 3-D instead of on the "insanity" of increasingly congested roads.

CAFE has designs for a range of pocket airports, ranging from a 2-acre (0.8-hectare) single runway located in greenbelts just outside major urban areas and handling up to 120 operations an hour, up to a 12-acre (4.8-hectare) version with two sets of runways and parking for 320 ground vehicles. Flights would begin with a steep take-off to ensure the noise level was low enough by the time the SAVs reach the boundary.

The Green Flight Challenge is expected to be followed by further competitions in 2013 and 2015, with higher prizes for the winner of each. The Green Flight Challenge sprang from the Personal Challenge of 2007.

Explore further: Puffin: the one-person electric aircraft (w/ Video)

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5 / 5 (3) Dec 20, 2010
Similar proposals, of course, were made by Popular Science magazine in the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.
not rated yet Dec 20, 2010
"120 operations/hour" !?
How will this in ANY way reduce ground congestion?
Peak LA traffic volumes: http://www.laalma...r26b.htm
If you pick a peak hour on the 405 at 20,900 and compare to 120/hour you would need like 1500 small airports and then the large airports would have to handle 20,000 new can this ever happen? seems like it's not a very feasible idea to use pocket airports to link to large airports.

Pocket-to-Pocket on the other hand would be nice, but at only 120 operations per hour (which I would assume land+takeoff really means only 60 net vehicle movements into or out of per hour) is pretty tiny to have any impact.
3.6 / 5 (7) Dec 20, 2010
The use of SAVs won't make any difference until you can get into one in your driveway and take off straight up and out to your destination. Until then, the only solution to congestion is virtual or cyber employment via networked computers, requiring no commuting at all. In fact, with current technology, almost all personnel who are office workers at computers should be able to do the same work from a networked computer at home. I do that now, able to process a payroll for about 100 employees from the comfort of my home office. I can do payables, receivables and even billing, printing out the invoices remotely. The one office person present then envelopes them and mails them, but that task could be eliminated as well by emailing the invoices instead of snail mailing them. Implementing that would take more than 120 cars per hour off the road!
1 / 5 (2) Dec 20, 2010
Suburban Air Vehicles

Powered by Moon Beams and Unicorn Farts, aka Unobtainium.
5 / 5 (1) Dec 20, 2010
First, the power to weight ratio for electrically powered aircraft simply isn't there. It's not even close. Electricity storage technology for today is simply too heavy for trips of any reasonable size. Even if the power to weight ratio were an order of magnitude better than today's engines, it still wouldn't fix the other problems.

Second, these people don't seem to know anything much about the limits of modern aerodynamics. If aircraft like these were possible, they'd have been built already using conventional designs. A more reasonable airport would have a runway at least five times longer.

Third, weather plays a much larger role when flying smaller aircraft than larger ones. It's a similar situation to being on a large ocean liner versus a small runabout. The former won't have much problem with most storms, the latter will.

Fourth, there will be noise. In fact, the engine is typically not the biggest noise maker on takeoff. It's the propeller.

What a deluded waste of time.
not rated yet Dec 20, 2010
If aircraft like these were possible, they'd have been built already using conventional designs.

Agreed on the power-to-weight ratio for electric power storage.

VTOL aircraft exist, so the short runway requirement is certainly *possible*, if not likely cost-effective. Ultralights can get by with a 400' runway, but they're not designed for extremely short runways - increase the lift and power, and this sounds achievable to me.

I'd think the problem with noise could be addressed by containing the propeller, a la the Moller Skycar.

As far as weather, if you're relying on a computer to fly you around, it makes sense that you could set it up to not allow flight until the FAA gives it the go-ahead via a radio link.

I certainly don't know what all the solutions are, but I say bravo for giving the market a chance to find them.
5 / 5 (1) Dec 20, 2010
One more thing:

Roads? Where we're going we don't need... roads.
not rated yet Dec 20, 2010
This could easily meet most of the requirements.
5 / 5 (1) Dec 20, 2010
"VTOL aircraft exist, so the short runway requirement is certainly *possible*, if not likely cost-effective. Ultralights can get by with a 400' runway..."

...But not the goals of efficiency, noise or reliability. The Osprey isn't exactly a well regarded aircraft in the aviation community. Ultralights seat two at the most and fly at half the speeds suggested here. They don't scale.

"I'd think the problem with noise could be addressed by containing the propeller, a la the Moller Skycar."

I don't wish to be rude, but Moller has been building skycar dreams since the 1970s. Not one of his models has flown with a human being.

"As far as weather, if you're relying on a computer to fly you around, it makes sense that you could set it up to not allow flight until the FAA gives it the go-ahead via a radio link."

Read the AIRMETs from the local flight service station some time. The number of hours in a day when a small aircraft shouldn't fly at all is significant.
not rated yet Dec 20, 2010
This could easily meet most of the requirements.

Actually, I wonder if they're thinking of the CarterCopter. If the engine itself were no problem, it might theoretically meet this need. However, CarterCopter has only built a very few prototypes and there have been crashes. It was designed around a 300 Hp engine.

Even without the electric drive systems, this is hardly an all weather aircraft and it is a long way from making "pocket airports" practical.
not rated yet Dec 21, 2010
I'm interested in how these aircraft are depicted as parking. I think it would be difficult to reverse thrust into a spot like that.
1 / 5 (2) Dec 26, 2010

Excellent post, and I totally agree. A very large portion of jobs in America are non-production jobs, which don't require a person to physically be in an office or work place. This is one of the situations where I say people do not yet comprehend the applications for what our technology can do.

Why does Jetson go to the damn factory, when he could push a remote control button from home via internet?

As for this goofy proposal, I can do without drunk/stoned aircraft pilots falling out of the sky on me, thanks. Nevermind the technical difficulties.

Why don't these people focus on modern mass transit? Why not have "Pocket monorail"? Make a network of automated mag-lev cars and automated switching stations, instead of stupid fuel guzzling flying cars. Off-board engines are far more efficient than onboard engines that have to push their own weight.

Replace all of our stupid roads with a mono-rail network with mag-lev cars, instead of the crap we have now...
not rated yet Dec 29, 2010
Many nay-sayers out there. And as an active aviatior for the past 40 years, sadly, I must agree with all of them.

Furthermore, considering our present government environment being suspicous of everything that moves or breathes, I must say that the idea of free and personal flight died somewhere in the '50s ... when Sky King finally put Songbird to bed.

I almost feel a tear flowing down my cheek ...

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