Bright future in focus

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With talk of climate change, fuel shortages and ageing aircraft, it’s easy, and perhaps understandable, to feel pessimistic about what lies in store for aviation. This short video should cheer you up. Although it looks like science fiction, most of the projects it describes are either underway or plausible.

The video begins with Airbus’s electric e-Fan, the first electrically powered aeroplane to reach the symbolically significant milestone of crossing the English Channel entirely under its own power. The Solar Impulse reminds us that electric aircraft, in theory, can have virtually unlimited range. (And if it’s not much use as an intercontinental passenger or cargo hauler, don’t forget, nor was Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St Louis.) It takes a quick look at other projects: from the Silent Falcon solar drone and the proposed Joby S2 personal electric VTOL aircraft, to the self-ballasting Aeroscraft ML868 cargo blimp and the Aerion AS2 supersonic business jet, planned to cruise with unprecedented efficiency at Mach 1.6.

Tipping its hat to NASA’s ‘double-bubble’ D8 series future aircraft concept, the video predicts cryogenically frozen hydrogen becoming an aviation fuel by 2040, supplementing the widespread use of near carbon-neutral, plant-based hydrocarbon fuels. It draws on an Airbus study predicting electric catapult launches for commercial aircraft, and formation flight similar to that of migratory birds, using mutual wingtip vortices to improve efficiency.

Okay, Spanish industrial designer, Oscar Vinals’s, Progress Eagle concept airliner of 2070 appears a little far-fetched (surely the fact that a cylinder is the most efficient shape for a pressurised cabin will still be true by then?), but so would a Boeing 747 to a nickelodeon viewer of 1916. And the 747 was a flying reality by 1970.

If only half the innovations described here take off, it’s going to be a fascinating half-century for aviation.

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