This is the time of year when everyone in the general aviation world strives to get stuff finished so that it can be shown at Airventure (“Oshkosh”). Things got off to a bad start with a USA Today expose on the dangers of flying around in 60-year-old machines flown by 75-year-old guys all regulated by FAA and NTSB bureaucrats who set deadlines for technological progress by reference to the timeline for the Sun entering its Red Giant phase.
The most exciting little airplane of 2010 was the Icon A5 amphibious seaplane. Deliveries were promised for 2011. I didn’t attend this year’s Oshkosh but apparently the company proudly showed off a prototype made from production tooling. This will be used for FAA-required tests in hopes of customer deliveries in 2015 (press release).
Honda is at roughly the same stage with the HondaJet, promising deliveries in 2015 as well. (release) The original delivery date was 2010.
Cirrus is claiming that its long-delayed single-engine jet will finally ship by “end of 2015″ (i.e., for New Year’s Eve). The plane was first flown in 2008.
Terrafugia, whose flying car I wrote about in 2009 (posting), did not bring a flyable aircraft to Oshkosh, indicating that 2015 might be an optimistic date for delivery to customers.
BendixKing (Honeywell) introduced a retrofit glass panel for turboprops such as the Beechcraft King Air. This could be exciting for about 700 owners of legacy Pilatus PC-12 who have not spent the $ 200,000+ to put in a Garmin G600 panel.
How is the aviation world doing? If you reflect on the fact that the proven way to add safety is a two-pilot crew, airline-style, the pace of progress in general aviation is indeed slow enough to lend credence to the USA Today series. (See my 2008 article http://philip.greenspun.com/flying/ground-monitoring, for example, for what might help.) As noted in this posting and associated comments about a recent Gulfstream crash, the level of systems integration and useful automation in piloted aircraft seems destined to remain low. If we take that as a given then the only way to achieve safety is via a two-pilot crew running checklists. Certainly the USA Today idea of bringing the entire general aviation fleet up to 2014 certification standards is not practical and probably wouldn’t even be very helpful. An original 1956 Cessna 172 can probably be flown more safely by a two-pilot crew than the latest four-seat propeller-driven airplane can be by a single pilot, who might be tired, distracted, or overwhelmed by circumstances.
Perhaps there is a product idea here. If the full two-pilot crew via telemetry idea (link above) is not practical, why not a self-contained robot second pilot in the aircraft? The robot would look at all of the gauges with a little camera, listen to the radio and intercom, and be able to say things like “Do you want to run the climb checklist?” and “You’re two miles from the final approach fix; shouldn’t you be putting in flaps and and slowing down?” and “You’re at 500′ above the runway and still working on the power, gear, and flaps. Should you go around and trying again to achieve a stabilized approach?” The robot could get additional inputs from the latest generation of portable AHRS and ADS-B boxes with WiFi/Bluetooth (see the Stratus and Garmin GDL 39).