Dreaming of the Perfect Airplane

Like a lot of pilots who've daydreamed about building airplanes or thought about their idea of the perfect general aviation piston single, I used to doodle pictures of aircraft that I hoped I'd design and fly when I got older. If memory serves, most of my efforts looked a lot like Lancair kitplanes: sleek, low wing, with lots of glass forming a sexy, sinuously curving canopy.

Lately I’ve been thinking about what I might design if I decided to produce an airplane for the 21st century today. And guess what? It would be a sleek, low-wing airplane with a big, acrylic glass canopy. The wing would be positioned slightly aft of the pilot for superb visibility in all directions, except behind of course. This shortcoming would be remedied by including a rear-view HD camera. The fuselage would be pressurized with room for six adults and bags. The passenger compartment and fuel tanks would be reinforced to protect the occupants in a crash. Full-aircraft ballistic recovery parachute and seatbelt-mounted airbags would be standard, along with anti-ice system. Power, speed and useful load would all be prodigious.

Hand flying would be a joy, but technology would regin supreme. The cockpit would feature enormous glass flight displays, touch-screen controls, voice activation for as many features as possible, and a full array of safety features including traffic and terrain warning systems, WAAS GPS receivers with high-detail moving map, datalink weather, synthetic vision, solid-state ADAHRS, angle-of-attack indicator, broadband Internet access (allowing, among other functionality, for charts and maps to update themselves automatically, even in flight), integrated automatic flight controls with envelope protection, fadec, and autothrottle.

I realize autothrottle doesn't yet exist for light general aviation airplanes. But it should. And I believe it's only a matter of time before it will. The same goes for HUD. Several companies have been working on smaller, lighter head-up displays for general aviation, although none of their designs have made it past the preliminary development stage. Rockwell Collins has come the closest with its HGS-3500, a head-up guidance system that injects its image between two pieces of glass rather than beaming it from a bulky and expensive overhead projector. But the HGS-3500 is way out of reach for the piston market – it's not even a viable choice for most current midsize business jets, since it's presently intended to function only when linked with Rockwell Collins' new Pro Line Fusion integrated flight deck.

I haven’t drawn any sketches of what my perfect idea of a thoroughly modern general aviation airplane would look like, but I can see it now, sitting on the ramp. The sun is glinting off the canopy just right. It's gorgeous. I ache to fly it.


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