Baby steps for NASA’s small-plane challenge

 SONOMA COUNTY, Calif.–NASA sponsored its second annual General Aviation Challenge (GAC) last weekend, when it awarded only about a third of its total $300,000 in prize money to contestants with advances in flight technology. On Sunday, in a fairly quiet public expo, the lone four entrants in the challenge showed off their two-seater sport planes here at the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport. The races tested teams on their fuel-efficiency, safety, and noise, among other qualifiers.

NASA’s overall goal with the competition is to promote the development of new aviation technologies, which one day could be used to get commuter air cars off the ground. The vision of so-called personal air vehicles would take people out of cars, and gridlock, and put them into the skies in small, carbon-neutral planes that could fly on autopilot. Sizing up the turnout of the GAC event, there’s a long way to go before that happens.

NASA plans to retool its contest next year to focus primarily on fuel-efficient aviation, according to Andy Petro, head of NASA’s Centennial Challenges, a series of government-sponsored competitions that support space exploration and aviation technologies in private industry.

Credit: Stefanie Olsen/CNET News


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