Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Back to the future – The Future of Flight, that is

And I promise you this will be my last article on my Boeing plant tour! The museum at the visitor’s center is actually called The Future of Flight. Hence, my title. Some of these flights of fancy are seriously on the drawing board. Some of the next generation space shuttles actually went to prototype years ago and now will probably never come into use - unless some corporation or multi-gazillionaire buys them for space tourism.

This powerful little twin engine jet is a NASA project called Small Aircraft Transportation System (SATS). The object is to provide high-speed transport between local community airports at current airline prices, sans the delays and extended travel times incurred by hub-to-hub routes. Wouldn’t you love to see this get off the ground?
Have you ever noticed the way birds adjust their wings in flight to perform various maneuvers? This NASA design is The Morphing Project which allows planes to change shape in flight. Flexible materials will bend and twist, adapting safely and efficiently to changing flying conditions like the wings of a bird. This morphing technology promises a wide variety of futuristic applications.

This high-flying, solar powered Helios prototype was developed by NASA primarily to aid coffee growers. Flying at altitudes over 50,000 feet for up to four days, it can determine the optimal harvest time on remote, mountainside fields. It can also act as a relay platform for telecommunications systems, enhance weather observation, and provide a disaster-monitoring.
  The blended wing body is a research project of both Boeing and NASA. This design could carry 450 to 800 passengers for up to 7,000 miles at a maximum speed of 560 mph while consuming 20% less fuel than today's jetliners. The wingspan would be just slightly wider than a conventional Boeing 747 and could operate from existing airports.

While the benefits of these projects are huge and obvious, I fear the development costs – in the current economy - will strand our access to them indefinitely.

No comments: