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back to article UK air-traffic offers flying-car-style safety gizmo

More news on the flying-car front this week, as the UK's National Air Traffic Services (NATS) has announced that it will provide an affordable auto-warning gadget - supported by free downloadable updates - to prevent private pilots infringing controlled airspace and/or crashing into obstacles such as factory chimneys or …

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Stop

No flying cars please.

"One of the main arguments against flying cars is that it would be terribly unwise to allow average members of the public to operate powerful machines carrying a frightful amount of kinetic and potential energy"

I stand by this.

You can stop a car by the side of the road easily but not a couple of tons of flying metal.

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Silver badge

Liability?

I'm surprised they can offer it at that price.

When recreational GPS first became popular they were limited to 99mph to stop people using them in planes. The aviation version of the same unit was about £1000 more simply to cover the cost of the makers liability insurance.

If somebody relying on one of these flies into the way of a 747 it's going to cost somebody a lot of pennies and if the unit is being flogged for £149 they aren't going to get a lot of lawyers for their money.

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Liability?

I should think that since it's not approved for navigation, you couldn't sue the manufacturer even if you trundled into the Heathrow Class A zone, for example. Like most things, it's designed to supplement the traditional map, compass, and stopwatch approach.

IMHO the biggest issue in the UK is actually the lack of TCAS, and even transponders, on light aircraft. ATC do a sterling job offering radar information (sorry, "traffic") service, but it's a constant stream of alerts and it only takes one to get through the net. Some people shouldn't be flying in cloud but do, and there's nothing worse than knowing there's something in your proximity and not knowing where it is.

In the US my GNS430 picked up radar data from the ground and overlaid it on the map, which was damned handy.

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Disclaimer

Presumably it will come with a carefully and sternly worded disclaimer written by said lawyers to the effect that the device is merely a guide and that ultimately, if you find yourself becoming a new decoration on a 747's nose, it's entirely your own fault for not knowing where you're going.

Same as an in-car sat nav won't let you use it until you agree that if it tells you to turn down a railway line, you'll remember to ignore it.

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@Martin 6

> I'm surprised they can offer it at that price.

The CAA/FAA regulations are quite clear in terms of what such a device is... it is a *navigational aid*. Not primary.

It is illegal to use any non-certified GPS for primary navigation. To navigate an aircraft by GPS requires that GPS to be certified for the purpose.

However, virtually anything can be used for as an aid - as long as you do *not* use this aid as primary means of navigation (very simplistically, you can use it to confirm heading but not use it to determine heading). These secondary nav aids include any old GPS.

As "anything goes" as a secondary aid, the term "ham sandwich" has become a common reference for secondary nav aids in some IFR nav circles. As that is how a normal (non-certified) GPS is viewed legally in the cockpit... it just as well could be considered as a ham sandwich.

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Dangerous kit...

Many airspace boundries are "Flight Level" boundries that are based on hight above standard pressure. Depending on the pressure on the day the actual hight of these boundries can rise or fall 1000 feet. No GPS based kit can take this into account. Also hight readings in GPS are much less accuracte than x,y coordinates.

Now i could tell you the story of two hanglider pilots flying several thousand feet above devils dyke on the south downs, when a Boening 737 flew between them in uncontrolled airspace, but as neither of the two pilots involved had zeroed their altimeters to take off hight, they may have been just inside Class A airspace. Either way, they were close enough to see faces through the passenger windows, and to get a right kicking from the planes wake.

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Bronze badge

"...limited to 99mph..."

"When recreational GPS first became popular they were limited to 99mph to stop people using them in planes."

This wasn't applied universally - my old Garmin 12XL worked (and still works) just fine at higher speeds. I tested it on several flights and found it worked just fine at airliner speeds, although I don't know if it would work at the speeds of combat aircraft.

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Alert

Cars

"it would be terribly unwise to allow average members of the public to operate powerful machines carrying a frightful amount of kinetic and potential energy" . I agree there are a lot of car drivers let alone pilots that fall into this category maybe they should be driving

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Anonymous Coward

I'd rather use that kinetic energy argument against something else entirely

Chelsea tractors, for one. One might even go so far as to compare deaths per suburban assault vehicle and deaths per recreational flying. Might as well include sailplanes (look ma, no motor!) in the comparison. I don't know what comes out, but I do know I happen to like gliders best.

The thing many people have against flying is likely sheer jealousy (like the Berlin SPD calling people using Tempelhof Airport ``the super rich'' in a masterfully demagogic, just because small aviation was happening there), and of course fear. Quite understandable because when some airliner comes down a lot of people tend to die spectacularly, but that isn't quite true for small aviation. It's the difference between a bus full of little old ladies dropping into a ravine versus a love couple killing themselves against a tree, only on a grander scale. It's all bad, but the scale does differ.

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Stop

FFS

The airspace restrictions have nothing to do with the type of license your holding, there's nothing to prevent a private pilot from operating in even the most restrictive (Class A) airspace - as long as you're instrument rated and your plane is up to the job. Most private pilots aren't of course but that's not the point.

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Silver badge

Please, no.

Yep, I also got myself an out-of-date PPL too, and frankly it was so dramatically harder than driving a car that I shudder to imagine the state of the skies when every man + dog can just hop in the sky because they rely on the avionics to navigate, much as I have friends who obey their satnavs obediently without question.

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Bronze badge
Boffin

nowt special

Some of us have been using xcsoar for the same purpose for years. Lately a few of us paramotorists made a version just for us - full airmaps, NOTAMs, etc. works a treat. And all freeware. works on any 45 quid satnav.

here's mine running: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zma9gYTDljI

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My other half

...used to work for NATS. Her boss was the same person mentioned in this article.

Not interesting, I know, but then most comments aren't are they?

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Terminator

Bah! Humans disappoint...

After the 9/11 stuff weren't we promised some tech to stop planes flying into buildings? Well, why don't we yet have this or similiar tech to allow ordinary cars to crash into things? It's time to let the machines take over and give up our desire for control of vehicles--after all, just because we want the right to crash into things doesn't mean its a good idea!

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Silver badge

@Henry Helmet

Remember when it comes to court reality takes a day off.

Pilot strays into wrong place and blames his MEGA$CORP GPS.

Lawyers for the other guy have a choice between going after someone whose only assets are a pair of cool sunglasses and a flying jacket - or MEGA$CORP.

If this unit is mandatory to keep people out of class A airspace, you are going to have a hard time in the same court claiming that the user shouldn't rely on it.

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Bronze badge

@Martin 6

"Lawyers for the other guy have a choice between going after someone whose only assets are a pair of cool sunglasses and a flying jacket - or MEGA$CORP."

That may be the norm in the USA but not in a UK court - and if the lawyers pick the wrong person to sue, they will end up paying the other side's legal costs.

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FAIL

no to flying cars

Why? Simply because of a thing you call airmanship. It, more than the number of hours in a log book, more than the endorsements on a license, defines the ability of the pilot to act and make the right decisions.

Driving in cars (with or without boys), is there anything that compares to airmanship? Hell, how many drivers actually do a walk around the car to check the tires? Or check the fuel before running out? And why not?

Simple answer. It does not kill them or you or their pax. 99.9% of the time. Unlike flying aircraft.

This is why flying is nothing like driving a car.. even if said vehicle being flown is called a "flying car" and sports all kinds of gadgets and doodads. It does not make the vehicle or driver safer. It is no substitution for airmanship.

There is a fundamental reason why flying is still (fact) one of the safest modes of transport. And this has very little to do with the aircraft (extremely complex vehicles), the medium traveled through (of which you still know not enough) and everything to do with the pilot. A highly professional and trained person.

For this very same reason, it is why there are significantly more incidents in general aviation. Despite significantly lesser complex aircraft flying far shorter distances in less complex airspace. But often lessor trained and skilled and not professional pilots.

Airmanship.

Anyone that slaps the label "flying car" to an aircraft, automates as much as possible, then throws a non-pilot into it to "drive" it, is a first class asshole when thinking that this will not kill those involved and those on the ground.

The technology still cannot substitute (or deal with) the human factor.

A big fooken fail.

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Black Helicopters

Good Idea

Flying is totally different to driving. I was allowed to handle a £30 000 aircraft after 3 days and 10 hours of instruction solo but took a further 32 hours and 4 weeks to get my license.

In a car one seconds lack of concentration or a blowout can leave you in a ditch generally a mistake or a vehicle fault in an aircraft and you have a few minutes to find a field or correct your error.

Airspace infringements are easy though, I know that radar is not 100% accurate, one of my instructors was a radar operator at Upper Heyford and was giving me a practise route to our airfiield. When he said that I should be over the clubhouse I was in fact about a mile from the field so accuracy was not perfect but at least he could see that I was not near any other aircraft. That said I had returned to an airfield once to recieve a call from the tower to be told that I had infinged a no go zone by being 100 feet the wrong side of a railway line, said sorry and that it would not happen again.

In the South East of England most areas are fly able but have height limits and if your altimeter is set to the airfield at 400 feet an indicated 2400 fett could be 2800 feet infringing some 2500 feet restrictions. GPS gives a sea level reading so this device would be useful especially if you set a limit on total no go areas.

At a cost of less than 2 hours average flying I would be tempted especially if it has a moving map as most of these devices are many times more for aviation. My wifes Tom Tom gets very confused when I go off road!

Black helicopter, at least I won't be infringing their airspace

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@Henry Helmet

"Even a basic GPS is more accurate than an old radar head. A GPS either know where it is, or it doesn't; there is no middle ground."

When driving in London on the Victoria Embankmnet my old sat nav regularly used to tell me I was in the middle of the thames.

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Thumb Up

Umm...

I have a current PPL, had a 500' vertical close call with airspace recently due to deteriorating weather conditions and playing mutual "spot the other guy before you hit him" with a Police helicopter that was apparently exactly where I was according to radar, though neither of us ever did see the other. Thankfully I was already talking to the controlling ATC, who asked if I wanted airspace penetration and made me stop the gentle climb that I had inadvertantly entered. With that in mind and having already seen these advertised, I can definitely see the point. I just wish the battery life was a little longer because none of the aircraft available for me to hire have internal power points, but hopefully that'll come with time (either power points or better batteries).

On the other hand, I'm now pondering Lewis's fully runway-to-runway capable autopilot and imagining a robotic hand coming out of the panel to press [APP] mode, lower the gear and set the autobrakes and spoilers when the crew becomes incapacitated by the fish dinner. It must be the week before Christmas or something, because that mental image is far more interesting than work.

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Coat

I would like to see....

an on-board system which artificially overlays "3d" heads-up pictures of controlled airspace onto the canopy/windscreen/etc. You'd have your traditional HUD information, plus shaded areas on the display in different colours according to the type of airspace in front and to either side of the nose. Only "free" airspace would have no colour. Finally, the display would show a particularly noticeable flag when you entered controlled airspace to ensure you either got the hell out or took the appropriate action.

I think the technology exists already for this kind of display; all we need now is the back-end infrastructure to support it.

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Bronze badge

Thinning the herd

Maybe flying cars will be a good way to improve the species (ours, that is).

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@Dave Horn

Most UK airspace users would be quite happy to have transponders, *IF*...

- a transponder didn't cost the same as a reasonable second-hand car to buy;

- a transponder didn't cost the same again each year in licensing/calibration/whatever fees;

- a transponder wasn't the size and weight of a well-stuffed overnight suitcase;

- a transponder didn't guzzle electricity, requiring a fair-sized car battery to run it for a decent length of flight.

On a hang-glider or paraglider, it's simply not an option for the very practical reason that there's nowhere you could put it. Not to mention that the transponder would cost more than all the rest of your kit put together. Even for a microlight or sailplane it's impractical.

Not to mention that the biggest airborne hazard for a hang-glider/paraglider/sailplane is other hang-gliders/paragliders/sailplanes, and unless you also have a transponder receiver (which is *big*), it's not much use. There's never been a collision between a hang-glider/paraglider and a powered aircraft, and many of the Airproxes are not the fault of the hangie/para. Nor has there been a collision between a sailplane and a powered aircraft since World War 2.

In other words, rolling out transponders to anything with wings is trying to fix a problem which provably doesn't exist.

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FAIL

Cheapo devices

So that Joe Soap can fly runway to runway in his Car-O-Plane. I can hardly wait, especially when the script kiddies get to work on them. Having seen some of the laughable 'custom cars' that infest the streets I just shudder to think what atrocities will be wrought on the futuristic vehicles themselves.

Brings a whole new meaning to Fatal Exception and the BSOD

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