Taking a plane the way you take a taxi. This is the principle of PPlane, a project led by European researchers. Self-service, like today's bicycles or Autolib', it will be piloted remotely. Its trajectory will be monitored by operators on the ground. Its design should take another twenty years to complete.
The aim of the PPlane project is to explore a concept of personal transport using planes with a few seats, automatic, for the general public. The challenge: to complement the multimodal transport of the future with an air link, for greater flexibility and speed.
Many works of science fiction said that before the 21st century, we all had to travel in flying cars or other individual aircrafts. This is a long way off: only a few very wealthy people have private jets, a few passionate pilots use small private planes or flying clubs to get around or play on their cuckoo clocks, the others are content with collective planes. And the constraints in terms of energy, pollution and noise do not argue in favour of the development of individual aviation as it is today.
As part of its prospective research programme, the European Commission launched a project, called PPlane, in October 2009 to study the possibility of developing semi-individual aviation, with two to eight people, for a wide audience. Onera is the coordinator.
To find out what this aircraft of the future might look like, the researchers initially considered only technical criteria, but very quickly added social and environmental criteria. It's inconceivable that this plane will be noisy or polluting," explains Claude Le Tallec, head of the PPlane program at Onera. It will therefore have to be electric. »
The other big question is the degree of automation of this aircraft. Many of the partners in this project are pilots, who have a vision of recreational aviation," notes the researcher. But this is a question of transport, within the reach of the greatest number of people, with a high safety requirement. It will therefore have to be highly automated, so that non-pilot passengers can use it. »So these planes would look like drones, the only difference being that they would carry passengers. All current work on the design of UAVs, their resistance to failure, is therefore very useful for PPlane. It is still far too early to verify whether such an individual air transport system is technically feasible, and even more so to judge its economic relevance.
The project is mainly aimed at identifying the technical difficulties to be overcome. There are essentially two of them: to design automatisms capable of managing in all circumstances, and to manufacture batteries with two to three times more autonomy. Researchers are also trying to imagine how the aircraft will be used: will it require assistance during take-off? Will we take off from the city centre or from outside, as is the case with today's aircraft? What type of runway will be used and how long will it be? Will it be necessary to use a catapult? Will there be pilots and controllers on the ground, or only the latter? How will flights be planned according to the weather?
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"While we have rather precise ideas about the aircraft technically, we are still in the dark about its management," says Claude le Tallec. One thing is certain: such automatic aircraft are not compatible with the current air traffic control system, which remains very little automated. This system interacts in particular with air traffic control [ATC]. The PPlane consortium, with five research centres, four universities and small and large manufacturers, was ideally set up to orient its activity in the perspective of innovation outlined by the European Commission.
The PPlane project is already helping to identify a promising future for such an economically viable, socially acceptable and environmentally sustainable component of air transport in the 2050s. The accessibility of this future is nevertheless still dependent on research efforts that need to be pursued in both technical and societal fields.
(Source : Onera.fr)