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The Future of Flight

CmdrTaco posted more than 10 years ago | from the not-any-time-soon dept.

Technology 280

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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FP for Saddam (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7717493)

Saddam's future (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7718016)

The man knows too much about the deals Bush Sr. and Reagan did with him.

He'll most likely face Jack Ruby's fate.

flying cars (2, Funny)

potpie (706881) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717496)

planes!? Where are the flying cars? I was promised flying cars!

Re:flying cars (3, Funny)

atommoore (720369) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717588)

"If cars were meant to fly, God would have given them wings", Bishop Milton Wright, 1903

Re:flying cars (1)

mlk (18543) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717736)

he did, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang had 'em, and that is the car.

Re:flying cars (5, Informative)

atherton2 (728611) | more than 10 years ago | (#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.

high times? (4, Funny)

orion67 (591651) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717500)

hmm, I thought High Times was a publication of a different sort...

Re:high times? (0, Offtopic)

OtakuHawk (682073) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717528)

"hmm, I thought High Times was a publication of a different sort..." ... A magazine for drug users?

Re:high times? (2, Funny)

motardo (74082) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717877)

I thought it was a magazine for very tall people

Why I hate GWB so much (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7717892)

God I hate GWB so much.

I hate his drawl, I hate his swagger that borders on arrogance, I hate his "folksy" image, I hate his black and white low-brow ideology and I hate how he mixes religion with politics.

Now I'm beginning to understand the rage Clinton provoked (and still provoke) in some people.

It's nearly 2004.... (3, Funny)

HotNeedleOfInquiry (598897) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717506)

Where are the flying cars?

Enough said.

Re:It's nearly 2004.... (3, Informative)

turgid (580780) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717576)

Nyeah, here [] , of course!

Re:It's nearly 2004.... (4, Funny)

iamdrscience (541136) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717727)

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.

The world of tomorrow (1)

penguinoid (724646) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717813)

The world of tomorrow will not be available until tomorrow.
Also, today was cancelled for lack of interest.
We appologize for the inconvenience.

Well ... (1)

ipjohnson (580042) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717939)

Atleast its being researched [] . I know a few of the guys working on the software models for the conflict detection and resolution aspect of the project.

Help (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7717517)

I realize I will most likely get mod'd down for this but I need help and don't know where else to turn. We need a PHP for a day or two this coming Tuesday & possibly Wednesday. For more information, please read my journal.

hypersonic planes (2, Insightful)

cinnamon colbert (732724) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717525)

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. (4, Insightful)

pbug (728232) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717531)

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?

Re:It may be fast. (1)

penguinoid (724646) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717691)

The faster it flies, the more flights it can make. But most of the airport wait isn't waiting for the plane to arrive, and they wouldn't allow there to be too many flights anyway (as it would reduce the price).

This will be nice for international flight, though.

HyperSoar and Hyper-X (2, Informative)

John Hansen (652843) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717533)

The only fly in HyperSoar's ointment is that its success is highly dependent upon Hyper-X [] . 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.

Re:HyperSoar and Hyper-X (1)

Jesrad (716567) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717657)

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.

Flight sick? (1)

splerdu (187709) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717534)

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? (2, Informative)

Jesrad (716567) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717614)

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 (2, Informative)

InfiniteWisdom (530090) | more than 10 years ago | (#7718069)

RTFA:The g forces would vary between 1.5g and weightlessness

According to my own virtual tests (3, Interesting)

Jesrad (716567) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717536)

I've done a few tests in X-Plane [] 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.

Re:According to my own virtual tests (3, Insightful)

giminy (94188) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717723)

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.

Re:According to my own virtual tests (5, Informative)

Al-Hala (447007) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717956)

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.

Re:According to my own virtual tests (4, Interesting)

transient (232842) | more than 10 years ago | (#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.

Re:According to my own virtual tests (1)

Jesrad (716567) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717874)

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.

Don't worry, long flights will be around a while (2, Interesting)

CPUgrind (630274) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717542)

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).

Environmental Issues? (2, Interesting)

Zo0ok (209803) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717549)

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.

Re:Environmental Issues? (3, Insightful)

JuliusO (706882) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717626)

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 to dispose of the waste yet and this is unlikely to come anytime soon. Until then, it's just a time bomb until there are serious environmental issues from radioactive waste that leaks into our water supply.

Re:Environmental Issues? (1)

Zo0ok (209803) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717759)

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 and should be compared to other mass-transits.

If flight fuel were to be taxed in the same way we tax cars, no commercial airlines would exist.

Re:Environmental Issues? (1)

JuliusO (706882) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717896)

I think you're right, by comparison to other forms of mass transit airplanes are poor. But is that why we are taking a plane? I don't think anyone takes the plane because they are trying to rideshare, more because they want to cover a distance fast. - Anyway you are right, airplanes need to be designed to use less fuel!

I think they will have to move towards hydrogen powered turbines for jets and fuel cell powered electrics for shorter distance/ lower speed aircraft. One statement that confused me in the orginal economust article was:

"Another way of addressing the problem of CO2 emissions is through hydrogen-powered aircraft (assuming the hydrogen is generated in a green fashion). Researchers are developing craft where hydrogen is used as the fuel for jet engines and gas turbines. The potential flaw in this plan is that burning hydrogen will generate water. "Bucket loads" of it, says David Lee, an atmospheric scientist at Manchester Metropolitan University. The atmospheric science is unresolved, so it is not known whether hydrogen-powered aircraft would generate more vapour trails than existing planes. But the clouds that can result from these trails are currently one of aviation's largest contributions to climate change."

So does puting water in the atmosphere have a significant impact of climate change? Surely the daily evaporation of water from the ocean is a much bigger source of water. There are two sources of water in a contrail. 1. Condensation on the wing (Probably the majority) and part of the reaction of burning kerosene which produces CO2+H2O.

Re:Environmental Issues? (4, Informative)

Senor_Pedo (648805) | more than 10 years ago | (#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.

To coin a phrase, (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7717560)

what a load of shit.

2hrs...impressive!! (2, Interesting)

joggle (594025) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717562)

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.

Re:2hrs...impressive!! (1)

Jesrad (716567) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717631)

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.

Re:2hrs...impressive!! (2, Informative)

hedgehogbrains (628646) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717793)

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.

Re:2hrs...impressive!! (1)

Jesrad (716567) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717902)

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".

Re:2hrs...impressive!! (1)

the_2nd_coming (444906) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717637)

it might just have wings that can invert, why make your passengers uncomfortable?

Re:2hrs...impressive!! (1)

Have Blue (616) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717674)

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.

Laptop makers will finally... (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7717563)

HyperSoar which would fly from Los Angeles to New York in 35 minutes. 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.

uav's for combat...... (1)

cry0g3n (732738) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717564)

"It tells us about pilotless planes, with 32 countries currently developing more than 250 models of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), primarily for combat purposes" and what about planes that are designed to do stuph BESIDES killing ppl/things? oh yea, war pays..right.... cryo

Re:uav's for combat...... (1)

vidarh (309115) | more than 10 years ago | (#7718006)

You have to realise the way this works: It's currently way too expensive research to be justified for personal transport. Military research budgets however are huge, and the safety demands (and hence costs) for unmanned vehicles are way lower than for pilotless planes with passengers. Hence the cost is lower and capital easier available for researching this as part of weapons programs. Once the technology is there, the pressure will start to commercialise the technology for civilian use.

No mention of blended-wing bodies? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7717570)

Depending on how development of transverse fans works out, blended wing subsonic commercial craft could be a huge thing in the next 50 years. Odd that they didn't mention it...

Pilotless Planes? (-1, Flamebait)

Metallic Matty (579124) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717571)

This is the kind of thing that gets me. Not that I don't believe it or anything, it just strikes me as one of the reasons we have growing unemployment. People's jobs are being replaced by technology, the human element is being removed.

A friend of mine worked in a local tv station, and she lost her job, and was replaced by a machine. Robotics and automated systems are a curse for the working man (or woman.)

That and foreign nations, and George Bush, but I digress.

Re:Pilotless Planes? (1)

the_2nd_coming (444906) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717693)

umm, well, that would be why you invest your education in the future and not in current technology.

Re:Pilotless Planes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7717774)

A friend of mine worked in a local tv station, and she lost her job, and was replaced by a machine. Robotics and automated systems are a curse for the working man (or woman.)

I knew it! Tom Brokow is a robot

A fix for automation unemployment (1)

penguinoid (724646) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717863)

So you don't like that automation is replacing jobs? No problem! Go to some third world country and become a farmer.

Automation is a long way from replacing cheap labor

Re:Pilotless Planes? (1)

DesertFalcon (670699) | more than 10 years ago | (#7718094)

This is not a bad thing in the long run. In the short term, yes, unemployment is bad. But is anyone still hurting because buggy whip makers are all out of business? What are the people doing now that would have been employed making buggy whips, had cars not come along and taken away their jobs? Sure, some of them are probably doing jobs that will eventually be replaced by machines. However -- might some of them be, say, working out the latest cure for cancer?

Technological automation of repetetive tasks frees humans up to do things that only humans can do. Flying is 90% sitting around, making repeated checks of the horion to make sure you're not about to crash. I'm a little bit surprised it's taken this long to automate it.

Mach 5? (1, Interesting)

penguinoid (724646) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717587)

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? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7717633)

sound travels slower at higher altitudes, Mach 5 at sea level is not the same speed as mach 5 at 80000ft

Re:Mach 5? (4, Informative)

Chairboy (88841) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717675)

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 (2, Insightful)

penguinoid (724646) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717934)

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? (1)

Jesrad (716567) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717685)

I think your escape velocity figure lacks an additional zero.

Re:Mach 5? (1)

Have Blue (616) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717689)

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.

Re:Mach 5? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7717737)

It has been known for some time that the earth's core is quite effective in preventing upside down flying aircraft from reaching space.

Re:Mach 5? (1)

MikeyLikesIt! (313421) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717891)

You just need an extra zero: escapre velocity is around 11,000 m/s.

What about SAFETY? (1)

weston (16146) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717593)

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.....

Re:What about SAFETY? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7717760)

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.

Most accidents are during take-off or landing where that kind of parachute system would be useless.

The most immediate remedy for making commercial aircraft safer would be lowering the retirement age/mileage of aircraft.

Airplanes! (1)

bobthemuse (574400) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717608)

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)?

35 minutes to LA from NY!!! (2, Insightful)

the_2nd_coming (444906) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717612)

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"


Hub-n-Spoke vs. Point-to-Point (3, Insightful)

G4from128k (686170) | more than 10 years ago | (#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 [] 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 [] 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.

Re:Hub-n-Spoke vs. Point-to-Point (1)

vidarh (309115) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717959)

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 overhead of operating small planes with short runway needs that would be acceptable for small airports closer to city cores would make me a lot happier than the massive planned Airbus planes.

UAV vs Airline piolts (4, Interesting)

atherton2 (728611) | more than 10 years ago | (#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.

Re:UAV vs Airline piolts (1)

bobthemuse (574400) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717654)

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....

Re:UAV vs Airline piolts (2, Interesting)

atherton2 (728611) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717751)

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?

Re:UAV vs Airline piolts (1)

penguinoid (724646) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717778)

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)

Re:UAV vs Airline piolts (1)

atherton2 (728611) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717935)

I admit it is not the best comparison but it is the only statistics that I have to hand.
The Global Hawk UAV looks more like a jet powered glider than a very fast, manoeuvrable aircraft. It is designed for relativly low speed flight and to be a stable platform for high definition cameras and sensors.

Re:UAV vs Airline piolts (1)

jelson (144412) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717936)

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 to be a crash instead?

I'm sure the computer will do fine in the common case. It's the outlier cases that I worry about. I'd much rather have a human be pilot-in-command, not a computer that just throws up its hands and gives up.

Computerized trains and elevators can just stop if they see that they are operating outside of understood parameters. Planes don't have that option.

Re:UAV vs Airline piolts (1)

twiddlingbits (707452) | more than 10 years ago | (#7718010)

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 as much data as they can, then let it fall out of the sky.

San Fran. to NC in 2 hours please (1)

Saint Stephen (19450) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717624)

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.

Saddam Hussein Captured (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7717635)

Saddam Hussein has been captured. Can slashdot post an article about this? It seems important.

Re:Saddam Hussein Captured (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7717669)

Uh, they did, retard. []

35 min. NY to LA passenger flights? Keep dreaming! (3, Interesting)

phillymjs (234426) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717636)

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.


Re:35 min. NY to LA passenger flights? Keep dreami (1)

huge (52607) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717860)

Please notice SR71 is strictly for atmospheric flight while HyperSoar is skimming on top of the atmosphere. As the article says:
Because HyperSoar spends nearly two-thirds of its time out of the atmosphere, it can radiate the heat into space.

Re:35 min. NY to LA passenger flights? Keep dreami (1)

vidarh (309115) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717893)

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 cheap before you could start making money off it.

At 5 times the speed of Concorde, I assume that if you could get down to comparable costs you'd easily see the same passenger volume. And if it could achieve this high enough that sonic booms wouldn't be an issue it would be able to fly a hell of a lot more profitable long haul routes than London/Paris to New York and DC.

I fully expect to live at least another 40-50 years or so, and 50 years was enough to bring us from no aviation to transatlantic jets - I don't see something like hypersoar at "reasonable" (read "Concorde level") prices to be too unlikely within a timeframe like that. Especially given that there are multiple hypersonic projects already underway, and that there is enough private investment in private space travel that we should see results from that as well within the next decade or two.

Re:35 min. NY to LA passenger flights? Keep dreami (2, Insightful)

twiddlingbits (707452) | more than 10 years ago | (#7718109)

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-speed Internet access so cheap, you can hold a LOT of video-meetings for the price of one plane ticket. Then if you really need to go in person to close the deal, you take the lowest cost flight. In fact, most employers require you take the lowest cost flight unless it would make you arrive too late. It would be very hard to justify a (guessing here) $25,000 ticket just to save 4 hours time unless someone made $6,000/hr. I can see cases where it would pay but they are not prevalent enough to subsidize the operational costs. One positive aspect is that donor organs could be shipped anywhere for transplant, versus some limits now due to flight times. That might be worth $25,000!! Of course, a Government could give the firm an operating subsidy which would help prices to be lower. If you were looking at it strictly as a free market venture you likely wouldn't make it.

Amusing aside in the article (2, Funny)

richg74 (650636) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717662)

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.


Re:Amusing aside in the article (1)

hedgehogbrains (628646) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717851)

Ah yes, the 'Economist' is ever so droll.

Planes...? (0)

simcop2387 (703011) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717707)

Just strap me to an ICBM it'll be safer, and they have better targeting systems to boot.

Netscape icon? (1)

SashaM (520334) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717719)

Why does the website with the HyperSoar article have the Netscape icon as its site icon?

Awesome! (-1, Flamebait)

twoslice (457793) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717725)

I can hardly contain my excrement...

Aerospace analysts are always too optimistic (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#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.

Travel time (3, Insightful)

spectrokid (660550) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717807)

L.A city centre -> L.A airport : 50 mins
L.A. ->Tokyo : 30 mins
Tokyo airport -> Tokyo city centre: 1:20h

Sonic boom (1)

shawkin (165588) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717809)

On the ground, the sonic boom of a hypersonic transport plane would be on the order of a small earthquake. It would be many times larger than the sonic boom of the Concorde. It would likely break windows and damage structures for many miles on either side of the flight path.

Even if the massive technical and safety issues could be solved, damage caused by the sonic boom would make the aircraft basically useless. Aircraft are not economically feasible if they can't fly over millions of people's houses without damaging them.

Re:Sonic boom (1)

Jesrad (716567) | more than 10 years ago | (#7718001)

The sonic boom is about the same for all aircraft, it mainly depends on the mass of the aircraft. It occurs at Mach 1.0 exactly. There is no such thing as a "louder sonic boom" if the plane goes faster. Nonsense.

Rough ride.. (1)

tjstork (137384) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717821)

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.

Saving time also means saving fuel (4, Informative)

Jesrad (716567) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717823)

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.

Weightless (1)

jacobjyu (583486) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717827)

So basically, we'll be weightless about half the time on the flight? What about the food service then? Will we use the same techniques as astronauts do [] ?

I'm also sure there will be public concerns about the weightlessness.. heck, they even said that this is still far in future. I'm not holding my breath.

Re:Weightless (1)

dotwaffle (610149) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717958)

Errr... Food service? Did you read how fast they travel? You are hardly going to want a food service if you can go trans-continental in less than an hour! Anyway, just to dig it in:

Hitting Mach 5 going from London to New York: 35 minutes.

Flying with BA from London to New York at 600 knots: 5 hours.

Cruising up to 88 miles an hour and arriving before you left in a DeLorean: Timeless!

Good grief (4, Funny)

skinfitz (564041) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717832)

Freight UAVs (3, Insightful)

atherton2 (728611) | more than 10 years ago | (#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.

Good AND bad... (1)

Eric_Cartman_South_P (594330) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717866)

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 (2, Informative)

TimeOut42 (314783) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717895)

This article sounds just like a show that was on NPR the other day 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!


Sadaam was caught. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7717907)

Not Old, But REALLY Old News (1)

LaCosaNostradamus (630659) | more than 10 years ago | (#7717908)

Call me nuts, but this is the old Dyna-Soar project [] , 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)

Hypersoar (1)

Lord Bitman (95493) | more than 10 years ago | (#7718003)

Didnt I read this in a Heinlen novel already?

Reminds me of a funny movie... (1)

Kevin Burtch (13372) | more than 10 years ago | (#7718126)

Anyone here ever see Deal of the Century [] ?

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