AOPA Pilot Magazine
A beep in your headset advises of an incoming message from air traffic control. You touch a button next to the multifunction display on your panel and there, awaiting your confirmation, is a new clearance: "Turn right to 090 degrees; descend, maintain 2,500 feet." You acknowledge the message by touching the "ACK" button. A click of another button brings back up the latest Nexrad radar image superimposed over your route and nearby terrain data. You’ve been dodging rain showers in the terminal area and you’re trying to decide whether that big red blob just south of the final approach course will stay there long enough for you to safely shoot the approach. In the lower corner of the screen is a thumbnail image showing nearby traffic. Two airplanes are ahead of you on the approach.
This futuristic-sounding scenario is not as far-out as you may think. Within a couple of years we could be routinely flying with the aid of datalink, which has the ability to send weather, traffic, and ATC information right to your cockpit. Multifunction displays are becoming more common, often carrying terrain databases to help you avoid cumulogranite.
Throughout 2000 we will be examining these emerging technologies in a series of articles called "Future Flight." In the 12 segments, we’ll explore datalink, engine technologies, avionics systems of the future, and aerodynamic enhancements that will affect our flying in the waning days of the first century of flight and well into the new one.
We hope you will find these Future Flight articles helpful as you plan your cockpit of the future. Each issue of the series will be posted here on the Web site, along with links to some of the resources we used in researching the articles. Please let us know what you think of the new technology and whether you find it helpful or daunting. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. — The Editors
December, GA in 2005 and Beyond, A message from the future, by Alton K. MarshThanks to a landing in the year 2000 that was so bad it ripped a hole in the time continuum, I have bounced into December 2005. The aircraft I was flying is still in good shape, but no one here wants to fly it. They call it an antique.
November, Communications Revolution, Get ready for more megahertz, and a phone in every cockpit, by Thomas A. HorneToday we live in a wired, wireless world. Just look around. Everywhere you go people have cell phones glued to their ears on a more or less permanent basis. More cell phone towers are being built to accommodate the proliferation of cell phones. Many of us have Internet access at home, work, and through our cell phones. Satellite television services give us access to hundreds of channels. Soon, satellites will beam hundreds of stations' worth of radio programming to our cars—meaning that we could drive across the nation unencumbered by line-of-sight and signal-range problems, and listen to the same radio frequency. There's a lot of electronic chatter going on, and it will only increase in the years to come. That goes for aviation, too.
October, Air Traffic Control's Evolution, Changes will come gradually, by Michael P. CollinsStephen Beck, a pilot for Grant Aviation, is flying one of three Cessna 207s making the short hop from Bethel, Alaska, northeast to the Eskimo village of Akiak. One of the other Stationairs climbed 500 feet above him, and then passed a mile off to his left.
September, Displays: Cockpit Cinerama, We have seen the future and it's big—and integrated, by Thomas A. HorneCockpit displays have come a long, long way in just a few short years. From the one-line monochrome text of the GPS displays of the early 1990s, we have now progressed to ever-larger, more content-rich screens showing a variety of flight information. Screens went from four and five inches in diagonal size to today's 14-inch models. Content has shifted from single-source displays showing only, for example, navigation information, to technicolor arrays that lay out a multitude of datasets. Round mechanical "steam gauges" of the past are rapidly leaving today's cockpits, and tomorrow's panels likely won't have any round gauges at all—save perhaps those that serve as emergency backups.
August, Horsepower of a Different Color, High-compression diesels and efficient turbines will power tomorrow's aircraft, by Steven W. EllsPrompted by the promise that leaded aviation fuel will be going the way of the dodo bird and by NASA-funded development of new-technology general aviation engines, no fewer than five companies are currently working on diesel engines for the light aircraft of tomorrow. In addition, two companies have lightweight, fuel-efficient turbine powerplants in development.
July, Composite Changes, Improvements in materials and construction techniques signal a new direction, by Steven W. EllsAn easy-to-understand composite material would be an adobe brick, which is wet mud and straw that are mixed together and then dried. The result is a material that is stronger than either mud or straw. If thermosetting of epoxy resin and carbon, graphite, or glass fibers is substituted for the dried mud and straw in the adobe brick, the basics of composite structures can be understood.
June, Micro Management, Controlling tomorrow’s powerplants, by Peter A. BedellAlthough there is some debate about what type of engines will power future airplanes—lightweight turbines, turbocharged diesels, or both—there is little debate about how these powerplants will be controlled. Electronics will tailor the fuel-air mixture and ignition timing of these future engines. Gone will be the magneto. Also gone will be the three engine controls that adorn today’s complex light airplane cockpits. They will be replaced by a single lever that will control the rpm, mixture, ignition, and more.
May, Headwinds for WAAS, Navigation: Where are we, and where are we going?, by Michael P. CollinsRemember the FAA’s Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS), designed to supplement the Department of Defense’s constellation of Global Positioning System satellites and allow GPS-based precision instrument approaches? WAAS is intended to increase the accuracy of GPS navigation by transmitting additional position and integrity data from ground stations to aircraft—and other users—via geostationary satellites.
April, Tomorrow’s Training, Surprises are in store for flight instruction, by Michael P. CollinsMost pilots today don’t fly their first precision approach until they’re well into an instrument-training curriculum. But Eric Eckman of Swedesboro, New Jersey, isn’t like most pilots. A freshman at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, he shot an instrument landing system (ILS) approach last fall during his first flight lesson. That’s right, his first primary lesson—not his first instrument lesson.
March, Beaming Up the Weather, Today’s services portend tomorrow’s resources, by Thomas A. HorneOf all the future technologies that await general aviation, the uplinking of textual and graphical weather could provide the greatest safety benefits. Think of it: Near-real-time Doppler radar imagery, contouring in six intensity levels, free of the attenuation effects that dangerously distort airborne weather radar returns. The projected locations of any storm cells for the next hour. Fast plotting of lightning-strike locations from the nation’s ground-based lightning-detection network without the misleading, radial-spread signatures that characterize today’s on-board lightning-detection instruments. The latest METARs and TAFs, called up on your display screen anytime you desire. Weather depiction charts. Satellite views. Graphically depicted airmets and sigmets, popping up on your navigation display as they are posted. Same thing with areas of forecast or reported icing and turbulence. Other late-breaking news from flight service stations and air traffic control, such as restricted areas that just went hot, can also be uplinked and plotted on your display. And more—such as e-mail and telephone service.
February, Links to Tomorrow, Swapping data promises a simpler future, by Thomas A. Horne
Pilots of the future can look forward to more and better on-board safety equipment, thanks in large part to new services that are just now in the first stages of evaluation. In just a few years, it’s very likely that the multiple navigation, weather detection, and traffic avoidance boxes common in many modern airplanes will be replaced by single units capable of combining and displaying all those functions on one screen—and boosting pilot situational awareness by orders of magnitude.
January, Your Future General Aviation Airplane, Where we’ve been, where we’re going, by Alton K. Marsh
Clues to the future are more plentiful today than they were in 1939 when AOPA was founded. If you had read the nation’s favorite guide to science in that year, Popular Mechanics, you would have been able to predict radar, the ILS, and today’s air traffic control system (see "Predictions of 61 Years Ago,"). Can we make a predictive leap ahead another 60 years?