Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Would you like to fly in my EU-tiful balloon?

The Guardian describes EU efforts to leapfrog the current conception of an airliner and create a radically different mode of transport.

The artist's impression looks like something out of a science fiction film. But a hypersonic passenger plane that could fly to Australia from northern Europe in less than five hours has been designed in Britain. With funding from the European Space Agency, a team of engineers and scientists has come up with the A2, a plane they believe could carry 300 passengers at a top speed of more than 3,000mph.

It's amazing how easily environmental scruples fall away when opportunity knocks. Are people who fly overseas for recreation climate criminals? You decide.

"It sounds incredible by today's standards but I don't see why future generations can't make day trips to Australasia."

Reaction Engines estimates that the cost of the flight would be similar to a current first class fare. Moreover, the company claims, the plane would not leave much of a carbon footprint.


Blogger eggplant said...

It would be so wonderful if they could actually build the A2.

Unfortunately, I have my doubts.

The development costs would be astronomical. More often than not, when Boeing, Lockheed-Martin or EADS come up with a radical design, they have to "bet the company" in order to meet the development costs. If the design is commercially unsuccesful then the company might not recover its development costs and end up broke. Boeing's past triumphs such as the 707 and 747 were actually spinoffs from US Air Force contracts. Without initial USAF development, those designs would never have come into existence.

Boeing wanted to develop a Supersonic Transport (SST) in the late 1970s that was derivative from the XB-70 (Valkyrie) supersonic bomber. This would have been the Boeing 2707. Unfortunately, the development costs were found to be too great for private funding. Boeing and other firms then went to the US Congress and asked for a government backed loan. The Congress (perhaps wisely) told Boeing to "get lost".

Technological difficulty for aircraft and spacecraft scale with the energy required to travel at its cruise condition. Velocity is proportional to Mach number (Mach number is the free stream velocity divided by the local speed of sound). Kinetic energy is proportional to the velocity squared. Therefore technological difficulty scales as the Mach number squared. A Boeing 747's cruise Mach number is around 0.85 (transonic). The Boeing 2707 would have cruised at Mach 2.7 (the sweet spot for SSTs). The technological difficulty of a Boing 2707 would have been about 10 times greater than a Boeing 747. The A2 is proposed to cruise at Mach 5 (the maximum economically viable speed for commercial aviation). This is 3.4 times more technologically difficult than the Boeing 2707 and 35 times more difficult than the Boeing 747. The bottom line is the A2 would be 3.4 times more difficult to develope than a vehicle that was earlier found impossible to fund. Add to this conclusion that the Europeans are in the process of getting seriously screwed by the A-380's development costs and it becomes clear that the A2 is vaporware.

2/06/2008 09:00:00 AM  
Blogger jj mollo said...

The Europeans really liked the Concorde because we didn't have it. I don't know if they're ready to eat grass to get the next generation, and its clear that Americans are too practical to go for it unless they can see the payoff, but there are indications that it's really going to happen. PopSci has something on it and a nice photo gallery. Defense Industry Daily has a discussion of hypersonic efforts and the DARPA Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle (HTV) program. There's also a reusable Hypersonic Cruise Vehicle program.

Personally, I think we're going to sneak up on the technology any way we can. There are lots of folks who aren't going to give up on it and the defense angle is hard to ignore. The big motivating factor is Chinese interest in the concept. They, unlike the Europeans, might well be willing to eat grass to get the jump on us. If there is a commercial payoff out there somewhere, it will be worth the effort to be first. Whether or not it reaches fruition there will be plenty of spinoff benefits.

2/06/2008 11:16:00 AM  
Blogger John F said...

jj mollo:
"Europeans really liked the Concorde..."
Well, us Brits and the French liked it (except for the Greens, of course), Germans didn't, most of the rest couldn't have given a toss.
Repeat after me: "Europe? No such beastie".

I saw (and heard) Concorde taking off at Heathrow once.

(Check out the video here; but it's nothing like the real thing was, trust me.)

2/06/2008 01:15:00 PM  
Blogger eggplant said...

John F said...

"I saw (and heard) Concorde taking off at Heathrow once."

I also saw (and heard) the Concorde in Heathrow and London. It was very cool (one of my favorite airplanes).

The Museum of Flight has an old Concorde that one can walk through. Strongly recommended!

2/07/2008 03:45:00 PM  

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