Saturday, January 22, 2005

The A380 : So whats next? Brief thoughts on the future.

I may have painted a rosy picture for Airbus in my earlier posts but remember that starting around March there will be a period of intensive flight tests leading to certification and if one the test A380s goes down then things could turn upside down for Airbus. Crashes during flight tests for new aeroplanes are not unusual but the A380 is a high profile plane and such an event will not be taken lightly. I hasten to add that Airbus are not exactly the new kids on the block and they know what they are doing. Every effort will be made to ensure the safety of the plane and the people who fly in it. I do not mean to paint a negative picture or anything but accidents can happen inspite of best efforts.

The Tu-144 (Russian version of a supersonic passenger plane nicknamed the "Concordski" due to its startling (some say too startling) similarity to Concorde) was being demonstrated to airline heads from around the world at the Paris Airshow when it crashed and effectively dissapeared from the world of aviation. However it was even worse than concorde in terms of economics (which is saying a lot) so would not have succeded anyway.

So whats next?

1. Size: The A380 (and its variants) will probably be the last of the big planes in the current flying tube configuration. Work is underway on BWBs or Blended Wing Body aeroplanes which will carry well over 1000 people. Perhaps a BWB design will put Boeing back on top :)

2. Speed: Possible solution to the problem of the sonic boom or at least reduction to an acceptable level. Currently supersonic flight overland is prohibited in most areas. Supersonic passenger planes by their very nature are highly inefficient at subsonic speeds and their range is severly affected. All factors that killed Concorde.

Therefore either the research being done around the world into reducing the boom will pay off and we will see viable supersonic passenger planes or the radical new idea in point 3 will be the future in years to come.

3. Space: Trying to convey the idea in as simple terms as possible - launch a plane to earth orbit, cut engines, burn almost nil fuel (after having burned a lifetimes worth in getting to orbit in the first place), wait till you are over the country of choice and reenter and land sort of like the shuttle. This will enable incredible speeds that can never be achieved in earth's atmosphere. This is still far far away with too many complications (grannys in weight less environment and the hazards of reentry (columbia) to name a few) but probably not as crazy as it sounds.

Think of Burt Rutans awesome Spaceship 1 and the fact that Richard Branson has already ordered 5 ships to be built for Virgin Galactic. Perhaps this will be the first step to really revolutionising the world of aviation.


Blogger Roshan said...

Hey Gramps,

Good to see you online even though you poo-poohed the idea initially.

Keep writing.

12:34 PM  
Blogger jhgasuhvkjahklnsdlksnlknmlwvlckn said...

Interesting write up...yeah the BWB is an oft overlooked possibility I think - there is a lot of research work happening (as you will certainly know...:) ) Esp since BWB concepts are being designed for 450-600 passengers and sometimes 800 (one of the erstwhile Rockwell's concepts)

There is a market for airplanes like the sonic cruiser concept I guess. Well done Rutan and Branson - I guess they deserve lotsa credit...


4:10 AM  

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