June 15, 2011
Airbus calls its Concept Plane for 2050 an aircraft “inspired by nature.” But it sure includes a lot of technology.
“The idea is to move out from the old-fashioned class system—first class, business class, economy class—and think more about the experience,” says Airbus chief engineer Charles Champion in an interview with The (London) Telegraph. “So the idea is, you approach the plane, you put your hand close to the door, immediately the plane recognizes you, shows you toward your seat, takes care [of] your luggage, and then you’ve got basically a choice within a ‘smart tech’ zone, and a more revitalizing ‘relaxing’ zone.”
For Type A personalities, the cabin’s Smart Tech zone includes an “energy harvesting system” that uses body heat to power the aircraft and light the cabin. Morphing seats adapt to the passenger’s body; each individual’s budget dictates the amount of comfort and space. (Why does this bring to mind Oliver Twist and his bowl of gruel? Please, sir, I want some more.) “You might be traveling alone,” says an Airbus press release, “but holographics, communication technologies and sound showers let you work with your colleagues…” Great.
Passengers looking to get away from work might choose the Vitalising zone, which offers panoramic views outside the aircraft (the fuselage becomes transparent “with the wave of a hand”). There you can veg in your “intelligent organically grown seat” that will offer you a massage, a drink, a gentle sea breeze or the scent of a pine forest.
If you’re like many overworked Americans who never take a vacation, perhaps you’d like to consider the flight itself “a holiday experience.” Head over to the Interaction zone, where you can belly up to the bar or access a “pop-up pod” that “will offer more private spaces that can be used for…a romantic meal.” (Among other things.) Go shopping in the aircraft’s holographic mall, or play tennis, baseball, golf, or “newer options like Airbus Fusion Ball, which lets you play catch across the skyscrapers of New York or the peaks of the Himalayas!”
June 13, 2011
If you haven’t seen it yet, take a look at this video of the Martin Aircraft Company’s recent mile-high test of its personal jetpack and safety parachute system. The flight topped out at 5,000 feet, but could have gone higher. While a dummy was on board for this test, the New Zealand-based company is marketing their $100,000 jetpack as personal transportation, with special appeal to military and rescue workers. The design goal is to fly for up to 30 minutes at top speeds of 63 miles per hour. And if the gas-powered, two-stroke piston engine conks out, there’s always the parachute.
May 5, 2011
Who can forget billionaire ex-spaceman Jeff Tracy and his five sons (Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon, and John), each named after a Mercury astronaut? Remember how they—through their organization (International Rescue)—um…rescued people…internationally? Ok, so they were puppets. Deal with it, people!
The Royal Air Force Museum (London) invites fans of the 1960s television show Thunderbirds to revisit their inner child (as well as the museum) on May 14 and “play with giant sized versions of classic children’s games whilst listening to music of the 60s and 70s.” The museum will also have on display original models, and will air episodes from Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet in the museum’s cinema. Sylvia Anderson, the voice of Lady Penelope and the co-creator of the show, will discuss her career, the actors she worked with, and the inspiration behind the puppets. (Anderson and her husband are the creative team also responsible for Space: 1999, starring the wooden Barbara Bain and the over-the-top Martin Landau.)
Our marionette heroes use a variety of air- and spacecraft to carry out their missions. Thunderbird 2 (usually piloted by son Virgil Tracy, he of the intimidating eyebrows, above), is a large green VTOL aircraft used in most of the team’s earth-based rescue missions. The big bird can fly anywhere in the world without refueling, and cruises along at 2,000 mph, but can achieve 5,000 mph when needed. Amazingly, it is not the team’s fastest mode of transport. That honor goes to Thunderbird 1 (typically piloted by Scott Tracy), a hypersonic rocket that can travel 15,000 mph, or Mach 22.6. You’d think that a rocket capable of that speed would have extremely complex controls, but no. Thunderbird 1 is controlled by a mere two control levers. Life is so easy when you’re a puppet!
October 25, 2010
The defense research agency DARPA recently selected six companies to participate in a year-long program to transform a Humvee-like vehicle into an aircraft. Lockheed Martin and AAI Corporation are asked to supply something that can “avoid traditional and asymmetrical threats while avoiding road obstructions,” according to DARPA’s press release.
The program hopes to “combine the advantages of ground vehicles with helicopters.” But is this scenario even plausible? As John Grossmann wrote for us in January 1996 (“Auto Pilots”), “The challenges of building [a flying car] are perhaps exceeded only by the challenges of selling it. Because a vehicle worthy of both land and air has compromise written all over it, the technical challenges are numerous. The common elements are few: fuel tank, steering wheel, passenger and baggage compartments, wheels, and engine. For flight you need wings, ailerons, a horizontal stabilizer, a vertical tail, rudder, elevators, and a propeller, none of which has any business on a car. For the road, you need a drive train and bumpers, not to mention rear-view mirrors and catalytic converters—all dead weight in the air.” (Even Terrafugia’s “roadable aircraft” lists this as a caveat: “Terrafugia’s philosophy is to design a vehicle for pilots that brings additional ground capability to an airplane instead of attempting to make a car fly.”)
DARPA’s vehicle is supposed to carry four troops and travel up to 250 miles (that’s both on land and in the air). First phase development will include propulsion systems, wing structures, and the advanced flight control system.
The flight control system, by the way, will allow for semi-autonomous flight, according to the press release, “permitting a nonpilot to perform VTOLs [Vertical Takeoff or Landing], transition into forward flight, and update the flight path in response to changing mission requirements or threats.”
Did no one think of the Aerocar (left) as a solution to this problem? If I saw a bunch of Marines piling out of that bad boy, I’d run.
May 21, 2010
The Air Force’s X-51A Waverider is being readied for its first hypersonic test flight on Tuesday, May 25. If all goes well, the scramjet-powered vehicle will fly for five minutes and hit Mach 6 before coming down into the ocean off the California coast. Project engineers hope to collect lots of data, while breaking the previous record for a scramjet flight, just 10 seconds, set by NASA’s X-43 in 2004.
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