You are Now Free to Float About the Cabin

The Farnborough International Airshow kicks off this week. Traditionally an event reserved for big announcements and massive orders for products in the aviation community, this year’s gathering will be more enamored with the presence of a spacecraft initially conceived by this guy:


Sir Richard Branson (Pictured above) is expected to provide updates on the flight testing and certification progress of Virgin Galactic, The Spaceship Company and Scaled Composite‘s joint effort in making space tourism possible. As of June 26th, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo had successfully completed gliding and rocket motor firing tests. This accomplishment keeps the company on pace to complete it’s first powered flight test by the end of the year with a first commercial flight suggested for 2013. You’ve read correctly, sometime next year we could be reading Yelp reviews on Virgin Galactic’s in-flight service quality and customer experience. Picture of SpaceShipTwo (center) mounted to WhiteKnightTwo (left and right) below:

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So how can you grab a seat on this star bound steed? Pretty easily actually, simply sell your house. Or a kidney. Or Magic Mike yourself for a few months because a ticket to the heavens is going to set you back a cool $200,000. Undeterred by the price tag however, more than 500 people have reserved their seats with a few more expected to join up at Farnborough this week after Branson’s progress update and possible disclosure of design changes. For those of you attending the airshow this week, please keep me posted!

The business case for space tourism is still a mystery to me and I’d love to hear any input from you on how this venture could pay off for those involved. Currently a $200,000 ticket will get you a 150 minute ride into space with 5 minutes of weightlessness. With such a highly priced service, customer base for this type of tourism remains small and I’d have to believe those returning for second and third flights would be minimal.

Something else must be on the horizon for a company to pursue this method of space travel…

Could this be an attempt at securing government funded space contracts in the future? After the cancellation of the manned space program, America currently has no way of getting its astronauts into space without help from outside governments. Perhaps Virgin Galactic is looking to secure manned trips to the international space station, proving space worthy technology with funding from the wealthy thrill seekers of the world?

In any event, the new “space race” by privatized companies in America will surely bring excitement as it’s players push forward with their respective products. I’m expecting any announcements and activity related to space tourism coming from Farnborough this week to heighten that excitement.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go work on my six pack and dance moves… tickets to space don’t pay for themselves.

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Son of a Concorde…

Imagine traveling like this:

in something like this:

The Concorde, pictured above, was last flown commercially by British Airways on October 24th 2003. Running routes from London to New York in approximately 3 hours this bird flew at roughly twice the speed of sound. Think of it this way, one in-flight movie and you’ve reached your destination. No re-runs of 90’s sitcoms. No fake napping to avoid that awkward convo with the weirdo next to you.

Believing the web would have us thinking the days of supersonic travel were coming again…

Rumors have been flying around the internet that a successor to the Concorde is set to be announced at the Farnborough International Airshow next week. Admittedly, similar rumors regarding the resurrection of supersonic commercial flight seem to pop-up every few years and this round of he-said-she-said has many different versions. From the articles I’ve seen, Lockheed Martin, Gulfstream, and my own company Boeing (I am NOT involved in nor have any official knowledge of this project) are players in this development but in what capacity remains highly speculative.

Many posts include one of two images from the  NASA: Down to Earth Future Aircraft page. Last updated February 3rd 2012, the page includes some interesting looking aircraft should you care to have a peek. To save you time, I’ve pulled the two images in question and their descriptions from the NASA website below.

“Another Take on Supersonic

Our ability to fly at supersonic speeds over land in civil aircraft depends on our ability to reduce the level of sonic booms. NASA has been exploring a variety of options for quieting the boom, starting with design concepts and moving through wind tunnel tests to flight tests of new technologies. This rendering of a possible future civil supersonic transport shows a vehicle that is shaped to reduce the sonic shockwave signature and also to reduce drag.

Image credit: NASA/Lockheed Martin

 Another Take on Supersonic

“Green Supersonic Machine

This future aircraft design concept for supersonic flight over land comes from the team led by the Lockheed Martin Corporation.

The team used simulation tools to show it was possible to achieve over-land flight by dramatically lowering the level of sonic booms through the use of an “inverted-V” engine-under wing configuration. Other revolutionary technologies help achieve range, payload and environmental goals.

This concept is one of two designs presented in April 2010 to the NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate for its NASA Research Announcement-funded studies into advanced supersonic cruise aircraft that could enter service in the 2030-2035 timeframe.
›  Read about all six teams’ design concepts in the article, “Beauty of Future Airplanes is More than Skin Deep.”

Image credit: NASA/Lockheed Martin Corporation

 Green Supersonic Machine
So the first concept has had wind tunnel and flight testing of technologies,  and the flying squid has a suggested time frame 18 years away. I better start learning to love the second season of “Friends”.

Realistically, I don’t think either of these concepts will be presented at next week’s airshow for the following reason: supersonic travel was expensive and had a very small customer base catering to business travelers with tight schedules. Developing one of these aircraft in current economic conditions would be a large gamble for Boeing, just coming through the woods on it’s prolonged 787 venture and currently developing the latest 737 derivative. Lockheed Martin will be tight on money due to imminent US defense cuts next year. It doesn’t make sense to me that either of these companies would want the risk involved in grabbing this niche market.

But what of the third caballero?

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IF any announcement is made it will be in the business jet sector of the market, which explains why Gulfstream’s name has been included in many of these rumors. This company already lays claim to the fastest business jet in the industry (G650 pictured above) and my friend Mitch Townsend of Gulfstream pointed out that his company owns the patent of their “Quiet Spike” sonic boom reducing nose spike. My hunch is that Boeing and Lockheed don’t wish to begin on a new aircraft but are willing to let Gulfstream take the risk of developing a supersonic business jet, tacking their own sonic boom research onto  Gulfstream’s pre-existing technology. The exchange of this information would allow both Lockheed and Boeing to gather data on their technology over extensive supersonic flights, ideally contributing these findings to future designs. Seems like a relatively safe approach for the big guys, and despite a moderate sized risk, a huge up-side potential for Gulfstream if they can pull it off.

Regardless of any announcement, I have a feeling us common folks won’t be satisfying our need for speed via air travel anytime soon. I guess Joey can be pretty funny…

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