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The Future of Flight 280

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the not-any-time-soon dept.
Roland Piquepaille writes "With "High Times," the Economist delivers a very long and extremely well-documented article about the future of aviation during the next fifty years. It tells us about pilotless planes, with 32 countries currently developing more than 250 models of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), primarily for combat purposes. The article also looks at future civilian pilotless planes and at the future of personal aviation. But what captivated my attention in this article was the last part about future commercial supersonic and hypersonic (at least five times the speed of sound) planes. In particular, the Economist describes the HyperSoar. "The HyperSoar is a concept for a craft flying at ten times the speed of sound and able to reach any point on the globe within two hours." This overview contains more details and references about the HyperSoar which would fly from Los Angeles to New York in 35 minutes."
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The Future of Flight

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  • flying cars (Score:3, Funny)

    by potpie (706881) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @01:11PM (#7717496) Journal
    planes!? Where are the flying cars? I was promised flying cars!
    • "If cars were meant to fly, God would have given them wings", Bishop Milton Wright, 1903
    • Re:flying cars (Score:5, Informative)

      by atherton2 (728611) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @01:33PM (#7717694)
      Eclipse Aviation of Albuquerque, New Mexico have produced a Air taxi capable of carring 5 people upto 1500 Km, but for this to be widely adopted 'free flight' must first exist. This allows piolts to plot there own jouneys, cutting distances and utlising more airspace. 'free flight' relies on each aircraft having it's own computer that allows aircraft to avoid each other. For more information see this weeks (13/12/03) New Scientist p28-33.
      • ... but for this to be widely adopted 'free flight' must first exist. This allows piolts to plot there own jouneys, cutting distances and utlising more airspace.

        It does, eh? I'm a little skeptical -- what do you think the difference between a "direct" routing and an old-fashioned flight on airways is? We're talking about 2-3% (borrow some charts from a pilot friend so you can see the routes that exist). "Airspace" utlization is a red herring -- collisions never happen enroute, only at takeoffs and lan

  • high times? (Score:4, Funny)

    by orion67 (591651) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @01:11PM (#7717500)
    hmm, I thought High Times was a publication of a different sort...
  • by HotNeedleOfInquiry (598897) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @01:12PM (#7717506)
    Where are the flying cars?

    Enough said.

    • by turgid (580780)
      Nyeah, here [moller.com], of course!
    • by iamdrscience (541136) <michaelmtripp@@@gmail...com> on Sunday December 14, 2003 @01:38PM (#7717727) Homepage
      I forget where I found this, but it's freakin' awesome and voices your and my concerns very well.
      Dear Gerald Glaser, Executive Officer of the National Science Foundation,


      We the people are upset at the so-called 'world of tomorrow' which still hasn't gotten here yet. We were promised a lot by cartoons and optimistically naive '50s scientists ... Instead here we are driving gas-powered cars and masturbating with our hands like suckers. Well no more. My fellow taxpayers and I are planning a revolt if our demands for unrealistic scientific advancements are not satisfied.

      The list is as follows; -Meal pills. How come we have to spend so much time eating and shitting? We should at least genetically engineer some 10-breasted chickens with skin like KFC's Extra Tasty Crispy recipe and small, colorful donkeys full of candy to bash at kids' birthday parties. -What about Spanish fly? GHB is for creeps (who likes having sex with people who are passed out?), but it seems OK to slip a girl a mickey if it makes her hot in the pants. Where are the flying cars? "Back to the Future II" promised us flying cars by 2015 - do you guys have a prototype yet, or are you still working on designing the spoiler and stuff? For that matter, how go the electric/hyrdogen cars? Are those almost done, because I don't want my grandkids riding around on rickshaws or bicycles. And it's a fucking travesty that we don't have hoverboards. They had them in Japan when I was in middle school, or at least that was the rumor. Where are the helpful robots? Robots could be washing our cars, frying our fries and exciting our genitals (without all the nagging). George Jetson had a conveyor belt of robot arms that brushed his teeth and clothed him, and if such a thing is possible in the cartoon future, it's possible now. We could give disabled people helpful robots instead of helper-monkeys that just screech and fling excrement. We could give the first robot servants to blacks as reparation for the years of slavery they endured. Robots fix everything. Why can't we control the weather? It would revolutionize sports and agriculture, since it would rain on farms and not baseball fields, and we could even assassinate dictators in other countries with tornadoes and hail and we wouldn't be responsible since it's an act of God. Supposedly Nike is already working on this, but it's high time that they invent a shoe that allows white people the ability to run fast, play better basketball and have the coordination to dance well. Word up. X-ray glasses that work like the ad says they do. I want to look at panties and stuff; I'm not interested in who has a metal hip or a weapon taped to their genitals.

      Scientists are always missing the big picture. If our demands aren't met, we'll kick the NSF's ass with our space shoes on. Once they're invented, that is.
    • odd: I had a flying cars post before this one, and yet this post has been modded up for funny instead of down for redundant.
    • by Desert Raven (52125) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @03:09PM (#7718513)
      I can't say I'm sorry at all that we don't have flying cars.

      Seriously, the average goober has enough trouble dealing with two dimensions. Three is far too much for them to handle while they lean over the seats to yell at their kids while talking on the cell-phone with one hand while holding the map in the other.

      I'm paranoid enough worrying about them while I'm driving. I don't want to worry about one of them dropping out of the sky onto my house.

      And, even if you make the completely insane jump of reason that would let you believe that the average driver would be safe, there's always maintenance to deal with. The average aircraft spends as much, or more time in routine maintenance than in the air. Well-publicised errors notwithstanding, aircraft are some of the most meticulously maintained machines on earth. This, compared with my fellow car drivers, who are often seen driving with missing headlights, cruising at 75mph on temporary spares, belching blue smoke because they can't be bothered to remember to change the oil frequently, etc.

      I can see some limited applications for flying cars, mostly in emergency services (ie: ambulances). However, for the general public? No thank you, it gives me the shudders just to think of it.
  • gee, just like the pop science article i read as a kid 30 years ago...can't wait !! (maybe they will have the 100 mile per gallon carb additive to - no wait, no more carbs !!!!)
  • It may be fast. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by pbug (728232) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @01:16PM (#7717531) Homepage
    But even with that fact HyperSoar which would fly from Los Angeles to New York in 35 minutes. How long would you have to wait at the airport to get on the plane?
  • The only fly in HyperSoar's ointment is that its success is highly dependent upon Hyper-X [nasa.gov]. Note how similar the designs are.

    Additionally, Hyper-X is designed to use the engine block as a heatsink. It will run for a few minutes (which is all it needs to do to get up to speed) and then the engine will melt and the aircraft will splash into the Pacific. I don't think that would be a good thing for a passenger aircraft.

    • I think you might have misunderstood it. It uses the liquid hydrogen fuel to cool the engine and the fuselage: when the liquid hydrogen expands into gaseous state, it absorbs considerable amounts of heat, just like the liquid freon in your fridge. This technique was used on the XB-70 Valkyrie, and it could run hours at Mach 3.
  • I've read about the hypersoar before, and it's supposed to skim along the surface of the atmosphere. While the specs are impressive, i'm sure this means alternating between positive g, negative g and weightlessness. Great for the rollercoaster generation, but obviously not for everyone.
    • Re:Flight sick? (Score:3, Informative)

      by Jesrad (716567)
      Actually, it would mean:
      - strong acceleration during take-off and climb
      - low gravity during most of the flight, oscillating between 0.2 to 0.8 g, or maybe an alternation of weightlessness and 1g gravity. I'm sure most tourists would appreciate a free fall experience as a bonus ;)
      - strong deceleration during the whole approach
      • RTFA (Score:2, Informative)

        RTFA:The g forces would vary between 1.5g and weightlessness
      • Re:Flight sick? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Simonetta (207550)

        The social effect of the hyper-sonic passenger aircraft was written about by Whitley Streibler in his book "Nature's End" in 1986.

        In it he describes aircraft that can get you from L.A. to India in three hours but punch holes in the local ozone layer when they leave the atmosphere. These holes cause unfiltered sunlight to shine through tiny portals onto the earth.

        In his book he describes whole blocks of children playing outside getting severely sunburned to the point of third-degree burns requiri
  • by Jesrad (716567) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @01:16PM (#7717536) Journal
    I've done a few tests in X-Plane [x-plane.com] and came to the conclusion that with today's rockets and advanced materials it might be fairly easy to make a suborbital plane that can go from Paris to New-York in under an hour. I've got three different designs that could do it. The one obstacle is leading edge temperature at supersonic and hypersonic speeds, but shockwave shaping and the use of cryogenic fluid (liquid hydrogen ?) like on the 70s' XB-70 Valkyrie can overcome it.
    • by giminy (94188) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @01:37PM (#7717723) Homepage Journal

      Wasn't the XB-70 made in the early to mid sixties?

      Also don't forget what happened to one of them. Making a big (ie passenger) aircraft that can fly that fast and that high and still be stable is ridiculously hard in the real world. Even modern-day 747s and other big round passenger aircraft are ridiculously UNstable, and require all sorts of computer operation to keep them from becoming overstressed and flying apart.
      • by Al-Hala (447007) <al-hala&technobauble,ca> on Sunday December 14, 2003 @02:05PM (#7717956) Journal
        Airplanes are stable or unstable due to their roles.

        Fighters are inherently unstable, to allow the radical combat sequences dictated by dogfighting. It's true some of the current fighters are unflyable without constant computer assisted tuning.

        Large passenger jets ARE inherently stable. The use of computers to control the flight surfaces are dictated by demands for maximum fuel economy, which means constant re-adjustment of CG's, trim, and other parameters.

        Nothing in their design prevents them from being flown on purely hydraulic controls in an emergency.
      • My memory may be faulty, but as I recall, only two XB-70s were constructed. One was destroyed during a photo-shoot when another airplane ran into its wake turbulence and crashed into it. The other one is sitting in a museum somewhere.

        The XB-70s had plenty of problems, but stability was not one of them. You are also wrong about the stability of other airplanes; no modern airliner, that I am aware of, uses an inherently unstable design like the F-16 does. In fact, the only modern airliner that is pure fly-by
    • by transient (232842) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @01:40PM (#7717753)
      There are more than just aerodynamic obstacles. How much fuel do your designs consume? What sort of load are they capable of carrying? I bet I can make ten different planes that fly from here to the moon in an hour, with no useful load and at a cost of four trillion per launch. Not to say that your designs aren't practical -- I'd just like to point out that designing airplanes is one third engineering and two thirds economics.
      • I'm using SFCs of 5 to 10, just like what real rocket engines have. The useful load really depends on the size of the aircraft, that's true. I made one that is very small (around twelve feet in length) and can carry one man (250 lbs of payload), for example. As I've pointed in another comment down the page, the economics you're mentioning have some engineering solutions too.
        • I made one that is very small (around twelve feet in length) and can carry one man (250 lbs of payload), for example.

          Do you mean you simulated your design on a computer or that you physically constructed this airplane and it really flew?

  • To bad all the major airlines don't want faster planes because of the effect it would have on the schedules of flights. Faster planes have been available for years and it still takes about 4 hours between NY and LA on commercial flights. Not to mention the sonic boom of faster than sound travel not being allowed (one of the reasons the Concorde was never used across the US).
  • by Zo0ok (209803) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @01:17PM (#7717549) Homepage
    What fuels are we supposed to use for civil flight in 50 years?

    Today, the commersial airlines do not pay any environmental fees whatsoever on their fuel (correct me if I am wrong - I would like to be).

    The energy cost for travel by flight is much higher than for other transport methods.

    I guess that especially super/hyper-sonic flight will not be considered before the environmental issues (noise, not the least) are completely resolved.

    In 50 years, I hope we have airplanes fueled by hydrogen produced in nuclear facilities.
    • You're right, airplanes need to be more ecologicaly friendly. However, your statment that the energy cost for travel by flight is higher than for other transpor methods is not true. A Cesna airlpane can get between 15 and 30 miles to the gallon. A jet when you devide the the fuel consumption by the number of people being carried isn't bad either. They are similar in efficiency to the cars we drive. As for making hydrogen by nuclear means, why do people always bring up nuclear power. There is no safe way t
      • What you say is that if I take a flight from NY to SF in a full commercial airplane my share of the fuel consumption is about the same as if I had traveled the same distance alone in a modern car. This is probably quite correct - I have heard it before.

        The point is, 200 persons driving in their own cars, coast to coast, is inefficient (compared to train or bus). Actually, it is as inefficient you can get it. To reach the same (in)efficiency for flight you need fully loaded planes.

        Flight is a mass-transit
    • by Senor_Pedo (648805) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @02:20PM (#7718096)
      Actually, the energy cost for travel by flight is really no higher than for other transport methods. Consider a quick calculation:

      A 747-400 has a range of about 8400 miles, and a fuel capacity of about 57,000 gallons. Multiply that by 410 seats, you get around 60 mpg per passenger. And Boeing's new 7E7 "Dreaminer" is touting much higher efficiency than any of their previous jets. Airbus is doing well too, with the new A380 and Rolls Royce Trent 900 engines. Fuel capacity of 82,000 gallons, range of 8000 miles, 555 seats. Thats around 55 mpg per passenger.

      So those numbers are way better than the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards in the US, currently 20.6 mpg I believe, not including the SUV's buzzing around the suburbs that aren't subject to those rules.

      Hydrogen fuel cells would be great, but they're nowhere near production status for commercial transport flight.
      • What you say is that travelling in a fully loaded big airliner costs about the same amount of energy (per mile per passenger) as travelling by car. (Could be a factor 2 or 5 in either direction depending on details, but whatever)

        Can you suggest a less efficient way of transporting 450 persons from NY to SF, than each of them driving their own car?

        Thus, from an energy point of view, flight is as inefficient as it gets. What makes it look descent is that it is a mass-transit. Try comparing it to travelling
        • The auto/airplane fuel economy comparisons have some variables. I can pretty much get 31 MPG highway cruising in my Ford Taurus while a packed 747 can get 60 seat-MPG. But if it is my wife and I, we are getting better than 60 person-MPG in the Taurus.

          The airplane has some interesting scaling laws. The 747, say, gets 60 seat-MPG (you probably have to look at some actual data rather than max range data because max range has reserve for headwinds, diversion to alternate airport, but the 60 seat-MPG is not

  • 2hrs...impressive!! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by joggle (594025) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @01:19PM (#7717562) Homepage Journal
    Considering it takes about 90 minutes to orbit the earth at LEO (or 45 min to go 'anywhere'), getting anywhere in 2hrs is very impressive. I wonder if it flies inverted so that its lift prevents it from entering orbit.
    • LEO orbital speed is around Mach 30. The Hyper Soar is supposed to fly at Mach 10 "only". At altitudes of 200,000 feet gravity is reduced significantly, but no weightlessness if you don't change vertical speed.
      • The impression of weightlessness has got nothing to do with altitude. Gravitional force remains strong in low Earth orbit. The reason orbiting astronauts feel feel weightless is because they are effectively 'falling' in the same trajectory as their craft. There are no attractive forces between the craft and the passenger. The same would apply for a craft at 200,000 ft if air friction were negligble.
        • I never said the opposite. A plane skipping over the higher atmosphere at hypersonic speeds would bounce up and down over long periods of time. While bouncing up it is subject to an upwards acceleration, so its passengers feel an increase in "gravity".
    • The main problem I see with that idea is that the transition between normal takeoff/landing flight and inverted cruising flight would be difficult to manage. Perhaps it would be able to reconfigure itself so that its wings produce a downward force without affecting the passenger cabin.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    HyperSoar which would fly from Los Angeles to New York in 35 minutes.

    ...be able to claim coast-to-coast on one battery.

    *coast-to-coast claim only valid when flying at over 5 times the speed of sound.
  • Mach 5? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by penguinoid (724646)
    Mach5 is about 1500 m/s. Escape velocity (the speed at which you need to go to leave earth and go to space without accelerating more) is 1100 m/s. Would that mdan that a hypersonic plane must fly uside down so is not to fly out into space?
    • Re:Mach 5? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Chairboy (88841) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @01:31PM (#7717675) Homepage
      Remarkably bad math. Escape velocity is closer to Mach 25.

      Oh, and flying upside down doesn't have a magical affect on whether or not you escape or not.
      • You are right (Score:2, Insightful)

        by penguinoid (724646)
        I missed a zero, sorry. However, I will argue your second point

        Flying right side up does prevent you from falling down to earth, and flying upside down should provide downward thrust (unless you change the angle of attack of the wings). So it should allow you to go at faster than the escape velocity.
      • Re:Mach 5? (Score:2, Insightful)

        by jfmiller (119037) *
        Could we all spesify weather our mach numbers are at sea level or 100,000 feet or whatever, the speed of sound changes as altitude increases.
    • I think your escape velocity figure lacks an additional zero.
    • That would allow for some interesting safety features... If the plane runs into trouble, it could simply eliminate this downward force (possibly by jettisoning its lifting surfaces) and fall *up* into an escape trajectory, from which it could enter a stable LEO orbit with maneuvering thrusters and await rescue.
    • You just need an extra zero: escapre velocity is around 11,000 m/s.
  • It's 2004, practically, and people still die when 1950s failures happen in aircraft.

    I remember shortly after Sep 11th, there was a discussion about parachutes for aircraft -- apparently a working concept had been demonstrated for a 737. I'm sure there are other possibilities.

    Flying cars are great, but what that will probably do is bring the highway accident rate (combined with the air accident death rate) to our airspace. Unless we get dramatically better at safety, of course.....
    • Flying cars are great, but what that will probably do is bring the highway accident rate (combined with the air accident death rate) to our airspace. Unless we get dramatically better at safety, of course.....

      A valid concern.

      But to paraphrase Doc Brown from Back to the Future, you're not thinking three-dimensionally!

      Consider that a substantial percentage of accidents happen at controlled intersections of busy streets, but in the sky the danger of collisions with cross traffic can be completely elim

    • Sitting in a modern airliner in the middle of a flight is about the safest place you can possibly be, including (if you count average number of deaths per hour) any place inside your house or apartment. More people die from slipping in their shower than from airline crashes, even when you adjust for the number of people who participate in each activity.

      If you want to make things safe, let's make cars safe. Talk about deathtraps, not only for the people in them but for anybody nearby....
  • As if flying wasn't scary enough! Before I just worried about engine failure and crashing into the earth, now I have to worry about the engine firing a little too long and throwing me into orbit (or worse)?
  • wow, I think that if this Plane is developed, we may see the beginning of cross country commutes every day, much like we see train commuters in Connecticut.

    "honey, Im gonna be late for work!!! my Editor at the LA Times sad that if I was 5 minutes late again that I would be fired!!"

    "ok, just make sure you get to the subway on time this time so you can catch the 6 o' clock train to JFK"

    weird.
  • by G4from128k (686170) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @01:24PM (#7717613)
    Although the article did a good job of discussing flight technology, they did not say enough on the market forces that might drive different scenarios. Its not clear whether Boeing's vision of direct point-to-point travel or Airbus's visions of mass-transit hub-and-spoke [findarticles.com] will be the future of air travel. On the one hand, the decline in business travel hurts the economics of offering quick direct flights to everywhere while new technologies like free flight [wikipedia.org] aid point-to-point travel. On the other hand, its not clear whether people will tolerate multiple connections and long boarding processes required for larger aircraft like the A380.
    • I have problems enough tolerating the long boarding time and travel too/from the airport for ONE flight. Having to deal with connecting flight is a nightmare. Given the choice between one long flight and two shorter with transit time in between I'd choose the one long flight even if it ended up taking me the same amount of time or even slightly longer than the two shorter flights.

      This is an area where pilotless planes and automated air traffic control could help greatly - anything that bring down the over

  • by atherton2 (728611) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @01:24PM (#7717615)
    commercial airlines have an accident rate of 0.06 crashes per million hours of flying whereas the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk UAV used by the US military has 1600 crashes per million hours of flying. This shows that the UAVs have a long way to go before we can trust our lives to this tecnology.
    • commercial airlines have an accident rate of 0.06 crashes per million hours of flying whereas the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk UAV used by the US military has 1600 crashes per million hours of flying

      I'm sure this statistic is not at all influenced by military UAVs flying into combat zones and commercial airlines staying the hell away. Or the safety restrictions which apply to civilian commercial aircraft but don't apply to military UAVs....
      • It is surely influenced by those factors, but I don't think it account for all of the diffrence. Also what would happen to a commercial UAV if its satalite uplink is lost? Would it crash, would an emergency piolt have to be onboard to take over?
    • I tought that commercial planes were mostly driven by computer (system recommendations:it is recommended that the pilot let the computer do the entire flight. However, in case of bad weather, it is mandatory for the computer to do the flight)

      In any case, it is a bad comparison -- commercial planes built for safe flying vs millitary planes that must be very fast and maeuverable (and therefore hav difficulty going at low speeds and are unstable)
      • Something that is "mostly" driven by computer is still "partially" not driven by computer.

        Do you really want to be going 650 miles per hour with nothing on board that knows how to deal with anomolies?

        Strange things happen in flight that, on occasion, require the pilot to hand-fly the airplane for some reason. Sometimes a minor failure, sometimes a dramatic failure. Usually you don't even hear about it, because the pilot can still land safely. Would you really prefer the outcome of all those incidents t
      • Military aircraft like the Global Hawk and others are relatively low cost and thus much more expendable than manned aircraft. Thats why they are sent on the difficult missions, if they lose one, so what? Pilots are expensive and non-expendable, UAVs are cheap and expendable. Modern planes are expensive ($20M+ each) and UAVs are a lot cheaper. Plus, at the price point the UAVs are, I doubt they have much in the way of secondary and tertiarty backups that airliners have to have. If something fails they gather
    • by f97tosc (578893) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @02:34PM (#7718215)
      Commercial airlines have an accident rate of 0.06 crashes per million hours of flying whereas the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk UAV used by the US military has 1600 crashes per million hours of flying

      This is not a fair comparison. Military UAVs fly around in hostile areas, and what is more they are basically designed and priced to be expendible. Also keep in mind that today's passenger planes are fully capable of flying and landing on auto-pilot.

      I think we will get pilotless flights eventually, but it may take 50 years.

      1. Military transports will be first. There are already discussions about this; it would be a realitvely simple matter to modify the plane - the tricky part is negotiating rights for flying through airspace and landing at international airports.

      2. If the military is doing it, why shouldn't commercial freight transports like FedEx be allowed?

      3. When this has been working for a number of years - it will be tempting to let a few peole ride along. The military may get permission to let someone sit in on urgent matters. Freight flights will follow.

      4. Eventually, some airline will get the permission to fly pilotless passenger lines. Most travellers will be skeptical at first, but as time passes and it becomes clear that the pilotless flights are both safer and cheaper - most people will be persuaded...

      Tor
  • All I'd like to do is to be able to fly across the country in 2 hours for about $200, please.

    I'd like to visit family more often. You can zip up and down the east coast or west coast cheap and quickly, but cross country is still $500 and an all-day affair, typically.
  • When they were designing the SR-71, the Skunk Works had a hell of a time designing the life support systems for the pilot-- and that's just one guy in a space suit. At Mach 3, the heat generated by air friction is sufficient that if the cockpit air conditioning system fails, he's in deep shit. If you're reading this and you think in your lifetime you're going to see passengers flying in casual clothes more than three times faster than the SR-71, you'd better think again.

    Even if it does become technically feasible, so few people will be able to afford it that it would be completely impractical to try to build a passenger transportation business around it.

    ~Philly
    • Oh, given current progress I fully expect to be able to get launched into orbit in casual clothes in my lifetime. "Just" flying three times faster than the SR-71 isn't much compared to that.

      Sure it would be expensive, but we've already seen that several people have been willing to spend millions of dollars for a trip into space despite having to go through extensive training, being stuck in a cramped little Soyuz capsule, and not having anything to do up there.

      I'd say you don't need to get it extremely

      • Technology aside (assume it will exist) the economics are going to be tough. The Concorde went under because no one wanted to pay that kind of transatlantic fare, which meant the plane was always operating in the red. Any new technology such as a 35 Min NY-LA plane would need tends to be very expensive at first, so ticket prices would be sky high. Not to mention getting something like that FAA certified to carry passengets (so it and they can be insured) would be a nightmare and very expensive. With high-sp
    • Ummm, do you remember a little old thing called the Concorde, Mach 2 [gridclub.com] in shirtsleaves in the 70's. Heating is a problem but not as big as you are making out.
      • Heating is a problem but not as big as you are making out.

        Mach 2 is not Mach 3. I suggest you read chapter 9 and the beginning of chapter 15 of Skunk Works, [amazon.com] which detail the development of the SR-71 and mention the conceptual predecessor to the HyperSoar, respectively.

        Here are a few excerpts:

        "At the nose the heat would be 800 degrees... 1200 degrees on the engine cowlings... 620 degrees on the cockpit windshield, which was hot enough to melt lead."

        "...without effective and fail-safe cooling the pilot c
  • by richg74 (650636) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @01:29PM (#7717662) Homepage
    It may be my weird sense of humour, but I liked this joke quoted in the article:

    There is a joke in the airline industry that the future crew of an airliner will consist of a pilot and a dog. The pilot's job is to watch all the computers, and the dog's job is to bite the pilot if he tries to touch anything.

    /Rich

    • In the same (pointless) vein, I liked my co-worker's idea for a vertigo detection system for fighter jets: a cat. If the cat's standing on the canopy, you're upside-down.

      (I know, I know-- -1 Offtopic)

  • Why does the website with the HyperSoar article have the Netscape icon as its site icon?
    • Presumably because it's a Netscape Enterprise server and the webmaster didn't replace or delete the default favicon.ico.

      $ wget -S http://www.llnl.gov/str/Carter.html
      --13:35:54-- http://www.llnl.gov/str/Carter.html
      => `Carter.html'
      Resolving www.llnl.gov... done.
      Connecting to www.llnl.gov[198.128.246.160]:80... connected.
      HTTP request sent, awaiting response...
      1 HTTP/1.1 200 OK
      2 Server: Netscape-Enterprise/4.1
      3 Date: Sun, 14 Dec 2003 18:35:59 GMT
      4 Content-type: text/html
      5 Last-modified: Wed

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 14, 2003 @01:42PM (#7717767)

    As an aerospace engineer, I'm always surprised about how many things we are supposed to achieve in the next so-many-years.

    People, believe me: It is _not_ going to happen. Period.

    Why not?

    Well first of all, aerospace as an industry is extremely conservative. Despite it's high-tech image, the facts (and my experience) show differently. Look at the shape of aircrafts for example: Essentially unchanged since the 1930s. The fuselage-wing-tail concept is still the most popular, and all the research on blended wings, canards, double-fuselage, and other stuff people have made up, have not changed a thing (try to find the book by E. Torenbeek, you'll be amazed about how rich a phantasy some people have). That is because it simply is by far the most efficient concept: it's easy to stabilize, and you can put lots of people in it. Blended wings, for example, turn out to be too thin for people to fit in for, say, an aircraft for 100 people. Also, safety is easlier to achieve, and there's lots of room for cargo/luggage and fuel. Boeing's SST and Sonic Cruiser, and even the Concorde, did not fail without a reason. The A380, the "next generation aircraft", still has the same basic design as a DC-3 had 60 years ago. Another example is materials: Aluminum is still the primary construction material. It is _very_ slowly being replaced with composites and laminates (carbon, glass fibre/epoxy, GLARE). Aircraft manufactures can't sell an aircraft until it is absolutely proven that the new aircraft is safe and maintainable and has cheap Direct Operating Costs. So they all play safe and go with trusted concepts/materials. The A380 took about US$15_billion_ to develop. You don't go gable with such amounts. You play safe.

    Then there's an economic reason. Profits for airliners are extremely low: 3-5% is not unusual. In fact, very few airlines have made a net profit over the past two decades. In the USA, airlines go bankrupt every 10 years, in Europe they would not survive without government support. Investing in airlines is high risk. This automatically means that investments in aircraft manufacturers is also quite risky. So actual research development of new technologies in the aerospace industry are very low, and usually government-sponsored, related to military applications, or conducted in universities or research institures. The "time to market" of any new technology in the aerospace industry has been estimated to be about 35 years.

    This is already too long a story, I could go on for pages. But realy, this kind of views on the future just makes me laugh my pants off.

    • by Illserve (56215)
      There are some businesses for which conservative practices are appropriate. I think it's a damned fine thing that the airline industry is one of them, given how devastating failures are.

      The safety record of the airline industry is rather remarkable when you think about it. Doubly so when you see them cutting corners in maintenance and still getting away with it.

      Now consider the somewhat less conservative auto market. We've got BMW's with engines that sieze up because of software bugs. Not the end of t
    • As far as I can tell the 3 top conncurent (lufthansa, Air France and British Airways) are running without any subsidide. In the case of LH since about 12+ years or so. In the case of Air france the company is in the govt hand *BUT* it is run as a beneficit making company (aka: without subside). As far as I can tell due to the air liberalisation and EU law anyway, you can't subside a company anymore. That is why LH, AF, and BA were so angry at the $$$ the US gave in mass to US airlines, it looked very much l
      • It WAS a subsidy.

        Instead of punishing an industry for unsafe practices (allowing undocumented foreign nationals to board planes with knives), our supposedly pro-free-market government handed out billions to the airline industry.

        And since nearly all business in this country relies strongly on the air-travel industry - it's essentially a subsidization of all business. And we defeated the soviets for what reason?
    • by DumbSwede (521261) <slashdotbin@hotmail.com> on Sunday December 14, 2003 @03:46PM (#7718815) Journal
      I have to agree to a large degree with this poster. Aviation followed a very exciting first 70 years, very similar to what we are now see in the personal computer industry. The last thirty have shown it to be a fairly mature technology. The 747 was designed in the late 60's and is nowhere near the end of its life cycle. The Airbus 380 has not yet arrived, and will still have to prove its reliability and economy of operation. Even so, the 380 has a familiar look, and while large, is hardly radical. The fasted plane ever publically acknowledged, the SR-71 blackbird, was also designed in the 60's.

      Security and speed of boarding become more important in the airline equation than ever before. Marginal increases in speed, do little to improve the overall perception of the flying experience. Radical changes in speed, while exciting to contemplate, will require decades of testing before being considered safe enough for commercial adoption.

      Pilotless craft might make sense for small planes where the pilot's pay is a huge fraction of the total transportation cost, but will take much longer to be adopted in 200+ passenger craft, even if the pilot is largely redundant.

      That all said, Flying Wings is where I see the future of flight going. That and computer assisted small jump craft of various types. See this recent Popular Science article [popsci.com] on flight. There is an expression in military circles when it come to evaluating new aircraft: "looks right, flies right." Looking at the envisioned commercial passenger flying wing concepts in the Popular Science article, one can't help but feel this aircraft has the right shape. Kudos also to whomever created the pictures in the magazine, because at first look, you would swear these beautiful behemoths are already lifting off from tarmacs in Tokyo.

      Rather than obsess on airspeed, I think our focus should be on making the trip to the airport fast and easy, and of course the boarding fast and easy. Imaging a airport where it was more like a trip to the local cineplex. You park your car close to the terminal minutes before your flight. The car is moved inexpensively for you to a storage lot (rather than park in the hinter lands and wait for a bus). Or better yet, you have had a quick comfortable ride (mag-lift or not) from a city center, directly to your terminal. You are a frequent traveler, so you have undergone a rigorous pre-screening procedure once a year, and can now be biometrically scanned in quickly for a hassle free entry. Like first class seating, biometric priority boarding could be a real money maker for the airlines. Once on board the flying wing, space is not as much a factor as in tube based airplane designs. Weight is the limiting criteria on the 800-1500 seat flying city, not space, so everyone has space to stretch out, and get comfortable. Even reclining to a complete sleep position, to just sleep through a long trip, very much like the golden age of rail. Personal video screens for each passenger will be considered a must, and you will have a screening choice of dozens of first run movies at a cost similar to seeing it in the theater. Your screen will also allow web-browsing, and by the time you update your journal on /. , and post a few comments, it's time to deplane.

      Making airplane fuels more environmentally friendly should also be a priority this century. A lot of fuel is used on take off, so how about mag catapult launch? Perhaps planes that use microwave beam power; using conventional fuels only to get airborne, or for emergencies. The rest of the trip a series of boasts from microwave beam boast areas. Ah, but I'm getting decades ahead of myself, and the crystal ball always grows murky 10+ years out.

  • Travel time (Score:3, Insightful)

    by spectrokid (660550) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @01:47PM (#7717807) Homepage
    L.A city centre -> L.A airport : 50 mins
    L.A. ->Tokyo : 30 mins
    Tokyo airport -> Tokyo city centre: 1:20h
  • You go hopping around from 0G to 1.5G. Basically, this super efficient ride is also a super way to make passengers yak.

    I'd spend 50 billion to develop this --- not.
  • by Jesrad (716567) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @01:49PM (#7717823) Journal
    Before someone posts about how rockets are fuel-inefficient compared to other engines, I'd like to point out that it mostly depends on the cruise speed of the aircraft.

    If the plane completes the flight in ten times less time than a conventional subsonic plane, then its engines are burning fuel for ten times less time as well.

    Modern high-bypass turbofan engines have a specific fuel consumption (SFC) rate around 0.5 lb of fuel per lb of thrust per hour. Current liquid fuel rockets' SFC is around 10, and solid / hybrid rockets' SFC is around 5. But the concept of "pound of thrust" evolves with speed: for example, a reciprocating engine with a propeller will give you much more (approximately four times as much) pounds of thrust than the number of HP the engine develops, _at low speeds_. At 375 mph, you get one pound of thrust per HP. And beyond, you get much less. That's why high subsonic planes use turbofans and the slower planes still use propellers.

    At supersonic speeds the fuel consumption per distance covered of a turbofan engine can grow as high as 3+, but that of a rocket engine does not grow with speed, so there's a given speed beyond which rockets are more efficient than turbofans.
    • OT: Sick Bags (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MyHair (589485)
      Speaking of sick bags, they used to have one in every seat back. On my last flight I realized I haven't seen a sick back in a long time, and I fly several times a year, so I rooted around the seatback pockets in front of me and found no sick bags.

      How do they handle sick bag situations now?

      Then again, in my many many flights I have never seen anyone use a sick bag.
  • Freight UAVs (Score:3, Insightful)

    by atherton2 (728611) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @01:53PM (#7717850)
    I could see UAVs being used for freight long before the public will accept it for holiday flights. Also the piolts are concerned with the collision avoidance abilites of UAVs. This may mean that in the next few years we may see plans for UAV only airports near our lager cities. For this to become anywhere near reality the problems of overcrowded airlanes and over worked air-traffic control staff, need to be resolved. For tis 'free flight' needs to be adopted, it allows piolts to plot their own flight plans and then when airborne onboard computers 'project' a 300km (30 sec)'bubble' around each aircraft, and automatically resolve incursions into the 'bubble'. This method allows more direct and efficent routes to be taken by aircraft and frees up large regions of currently unused airspace. Boeing is backing this move and is also taking an intrest in personal air transport. Yes, that means a flying car.
  • Super-quick transportation is great on many levels, but bad on others IMO.

    Future 2050 news article summary...

    Blah blah blah... disease... blah blah... two million dead... blah blah... spread so quickly... HyperSoar(TM)... blah blah... FreeBSD 14.2.0 is dying.

  • Science Friday - NPR (Score:2, Informative)

    by TimeOut42 (314783)
    This article sounds just like a show that was on NPR the other day http://www.sciencefriday.com/pages/2003/Dec/hour2_ 121203.html

    They had 'experts' talking about why supersonic commercial flight isn't hot, explains where our personal aircraft are at, sub orbital flights, etc.

    It was an interesting listen!

    Sean
  • Call me nuts, but this is the old Dyna-Soar project [astronautix.com], so there's nothing new about it except for will to get it done.

    ObJoke1: It's hard to keep a Dyna-Soar extinct.
    ObJoke2: That project's so old, it's a Dyna-Soar!
    (boo, hiss)

  • Anyone here ever see Deal of the Century [imdb.com]?

  • The prototype "Hyper-X" vehicle was destroyed over the Pacific ocean a couple years ago. The Pegasus rocket it was mounted on malfunctioned and the airframe was destroyed.

    It'd be some fun to fly the HyperSoar profile, every few minutes your laptop would float away.
  • Oh gosh. The 21st century is bringing us some of the dumbest scientists in history.

    People -- mostly afraid already of flying in the first place -- want more weightlessness and swinging up and down violently 15,000 feet at a time.

    Right.
  • Strangely enough we've been seeing similar claims for the last 50 years. Even back in the 50's, magazines such as Popular Science were informing us that "soon" we'd have rocket planes that will take us anywhere in the world in X hours (where X is very small).

    Why don't we have them yet then?

    Cost. Most people want to fly as cheaply as possible and aren't willing to spend an extra grand in exchange for shaving three hours off their travel time.

    In addition, unlike the 50's, business people no longer need to
  • History of Flight (Score:2, Interesting)

    by JuggleGeek (665620)
    Lets not forget the history of flight.

    On Dec 17th, 1903 [canoe.ca], the Wright Brothers made history. Flight has come a long way in 100 years.

  • Sorry, don't expect UAVs to be taking you anywhere in the next 100 years. They are great for military application, but UAVs have a horrible record of dealing with anomalies like crosswind landings and takeoffs. They do poorly in common emergencies, not to mention uncommon ones. I am sure the tweaking and coding will continue to improve, but no one would or should feel safe geting aboard a commercial aircraft with 250 passengers run by HAL 9000.

    Yes, many GA accidents are pilot error. A good share of passen
  • hypersoar (Score:3, Informative)

    by cybercuzco (100904) on Sunday December 14, 2003 @04:40PM (#7719192) Homepage Journal
    Im currently doing my masters project on the feasibility of the hypersoar concept. In a nutshell, its possible, but with some caveats. One of the main reasons you want to do a periodic trajectory is to reduce drag and heating of the aircraft. If you stay at a constant altitude, all that heat builds up and eventually melts your plane. If you skip out of the atmosphere the heat should radiate to space, reducing your total heat load. The problem comes when you come back in. You go deeper into the atmosphere at a higher temperature than you would at a constant altitute. Ultimately your total heat load is lower, but your maximum temperature is higher by about 20% (in degrees K) which is enough to require some more exotic materials. The other thing is that you require alot of lift for pulling out of the dive at the bottom of your trajectory. So you need a high L/D ratio, which for a hypersonic vehicle is about 4. So you need wings and structure to hold the wings etc. Thirdly, you need an engine with enough thrust to overcome the drag at the bottom of the dive. If your engine isnt pushing harder than the air is pushing back, you just slow down and fall to earth. If its not pushing hard enough to bring you back to your initial velocity, you cant go very far. For my preliminary vehicle design I found that a vechile of ~500 tons with a L/D of 4 needs a thrust of about 2g's or about a million newtons If your vehicle is too light, it cant push far enough into the atmosphere to generate thrust (im using an airbreathing engine) and you crash. If its too heavy you go in to far and burn up. There is a specific range of weights and engine on-off conditions that are required for a successful trajectory. I think Ive got it worked out, but I need to do some more analysis over winter break

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