Monday, November 13, 2006

Wings Over the World

From time to time I will write about air travel. It is a big part of our lives; the line between air and Space travel is breaking down. Virgin Atlantic and others promise to take passengers on suborbital flights. We will see that a truly advanced airliner will be very much like a spaceship.

We saw last week how Boeing is using composite technology to build a fuel-efficient airliner. When you compare the first operational jet, the ME-262 and the latest 787, the shape has not changed much. There is still a tubular fuselage, a separate wing and engines hanging in nacelles. It is more efficient to combine everything in a single unit. The flying wings pioneered by Jack Northrop led to the B-2 stealth bomber. Last week MIT and Cambridge University researchers showed off this design for an airliner designed to be environmentally-friendly, both quiet and fuel-efficient.

Boeing's Phantom Works is separately developing the X-48B as a subscale test vehicle for Blended Wing Bodies, or BWB's. You've never heard of the Phantom Works? After Lockheed's Skunk Works was so effective, McDonnell-Douglas started their own shadowy organisation and named it for their F-4 Phantom. Boeing inherited Phantom Works when it took over McDonnell-Douglas, and gained flying wing experience teaming with Northrop on the B-2. Some have rumoured that this is the 797.

Welcome to the year 2030. Humans are walking on Mars, many nations have flags on the Moon, and this is your holiday ride. It carries twice as many passengers as a 747 but takes up about the same amount of tarmac space. That is another advantage of spreading the weight evenly around one enormous wing. There are not a lot of window seats, but by this time all passengers have television.

There are a lot of benefits to learning the secrets of Space/Time. In the future I hope to show you an aircraft that will be faster and even more environmentally friendly, whose exhaust is water!


Blogger CarlBrannen said...

Not a lot of windows!!! No! It was bad enough when I flew to Hawaii on Hawaiian Airlines. They asked the people on the plane to close the windows so the movies would have better contrast ratio. Even though I didn't have a window seat I was pissed. I will never fly them again. Thousands of miles of ocean and clouds and only the pilots saw them.

5:34 PM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

HI Carl, great to hear from you. Seats with television are an idea whose time has come, especially on trans-Pacific flights. I hope you enjoyed the islands anyway, and that your talk went well. Have you thought about th AAS/AAPT meeting in January?

7:04 PM  
Blogger Kea said...

Hey, guys

Emirates has had seats with television for a while now. Quite nice to be able to pick a movie etc.

11:48 AM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

Quantas and Jetblue have TV in nearly all the seats. The first 747's had lounges and bars. (They hint at such spaces on the A-380, but Airbus has let us down already.) When you travel a lot these little things become important.

6:04 PM  
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