Specialist engineers at Airbus, the European aircraft manufacturer, have drafted plans for the future of flight in 2050. Known as the “Concept Plane” their plans include a completely transparent fuselage that will allow passengers to the see the stars above and city lights below. The concept would be a bionic structure that mimics the efficiency of bird bone, providing strength where needed but still giving passengers open, panoramic views. Apparently the airplane dissolves into thin air, as if erased by an invisible hand. As Airbus puts it, first the cabin roof disappears, then the floor, and from one moment to the next, the passengers will feel like they have lost their grip on anything solid. Someone losing their grip, that’s for sure.
Fortunately a transparent airplane like this one is nothing more than a technological fantasy, in which the plane's outer skin could be made of a futuristic type of ceramic which, at the push of a button, would send electricity flowing through the material, rendering it transparent. Now that would be useful on weekend nights out.
The cabin will also have organically-grown seats that sense passengers’ needs and adapt for the perfect fit. That really would be a technological first for the airline industry. Travelers will be able to read bedtime stories to their children back home, Airbus said. If you ask me, pretty much all of these ideas sound like a bed-time story.
"Passengers in an airplane like this would experience flight in a completely new way" enthused Krein, the Airbus head of research and technology. "We told our engineers to give their imaginations free rein," Krein explains. "What emerged were completely realistic visions of flight in the year 2050. Our people are grounded in reality, after all. And most of the necessary technology already exists." Interesting choice of words here, it is surely impossible to predict 38 years into the future and then argue how grounded your people are!
Another idea involves sensors that could detect hairline cracks anywhere in the aircraft, with microscopic nano-capsules that would be released to seal the fissure. "The airplane almost becomes a living organism this way," Krein says. I think that’s the last thing we need. What about the living organisms inhabiting the bathrooms and the “airline food”, and the seat covers? Don’t worry there’ll be an App. for that! Airbus' developers have envisioned nano-materials that would allow seats to clean themselves, a system more hygienic than employing cleaning crews, and cheaper. "In the future," Krein suggests, "each passenger will feel he or she is sitting on a brand new airplane about to take off on its maiden flight." Yeah right, like this would actually happen.
Anti-turbulence sensors could make a further contribution to passenger comfort. These would detect unpleasant air pockets ahead (too much fiber in the toy food?) allowing the aircraft to adjust its navigation automatically, without assistance from the pilots. So, despite technological advancements in adjusting the skin of the aircraft the engineers won’t be able to replace the bag of bones we call a pilot.
Still, it’s always useful to have a pilot onboard all dressed in his Sunday best uniform, lots of braid on the peaked cap, very reassuring for the pax. By 2050 “George” will be flying the plane on autopilot at all times, pretty much as he does now, but the co-pilot’s seat will be empty. Well, not quite empty because sitting up with ears perked, will be a dog. Why a dog? It’s obvious really, while the plane will be technologically perfect at flying the plane, the dog will be trained to attack the instant the pilot attempts to meddle with the controls.
Since this aircraft of the future will be automatic where nothing can go wrong, nothing can go wrong, prankster pilots will amuse themselves by conducting safety checks inside the aircraft, starting at the rear and walking forward, accompanied by the said dog, and carrying a white stick.
To reduce fuel consumption and jet engine noise, Airbus engineers are planning a revolution in aircraft construction. The jet engines will be embedded into the fuselage at the rear, rather than under the wings and by using a more aerodynamic shape, and framed by a curved tail plane, these engines would make for a more streamlined aircraft, as well as directing most of their noise upward. But such engines are inaccessible and so more costly to maintain. But don’t worry peoples, the folks at Airbus assume we will be using maintenance or nearly maintenance-free engines by 2050. Well which is it?
Also, if the Airbus engineers have their way, future passengers may contribute to reductions in fuel costs themselves, as their body heat would be collected and fed into onboard systems using heat exchangers. Fortunately there's a precedent for this use of body heat; farmers built their barns to allow bovine warmth to heat the farmhouse. Or pigs in the piggery, which is pretty much what it feels like flying jam-packed planes of the early 20th century.
Have you noticed anything with these “grounded in reality” suggestions? Well, airplane manufacturers have are very focused regarding who pays their bills. That’s right, the airlines. None of these ideas would benefit the bums on seats. Think about this for a moment. Average flying speeds haven’t increased since the 1960’s (imagine?), Concorde has come and gone like a puff of wind never to be bested. Airline foods are more of an oxymoron than ever before and as for seat pitch, give me a break. With proposed saddle seats and standing room only, as suggested by some of the nuttiest airline CEO’s around, I think we can honestly say that the traveling public hasn’t benefited a damn since the introduction of the Boeing 747 “Jumbo” in the early 70’s. Sure there have been incremental benefits, but there have been no significant advances in flight or space flight of any sort since Concorde, the Jumbo jet and the Apollo moon-shots, all of which were children of the 1970’s; a sad, sad situation.
Aircraft designers now think that traditional passenger aircraft design has run its course in terms of wringing further efficiencies from it. New proposals have two partial cylinders joined lengthwise, helps to promote lift, with the forward cockpit area tilted upwards. Also lighter and slimmer wings to reduce weight with the turbines mounted behind the fuselage allowing a smaller tail area. Of course the wings can’t be too small otherwise the gas tank will have a more limited range. Flying wings are popular with plane designers, but they impose operating problems such as longer boarding times, and for many passengers, no easy access to a window or door. Sitting in such an aircraft, especially at the wingtip, will give a whole new meaning to banking turn; probably requiring larger barf bags.
Announced last summer Airbus has been quietly refining its “Concept Plane”, and provided new details only this month, on their newly launched Future Airbus Website. According to Airbus "A third of the 10,000 people that took part in our global Passenger 2050 survey said that they want the flight itself to feel like a holiday experience and…access all the technological advances which fill their daily lives during the flight." What a waste of 9,999 opinions! Of course we want a flight to feel like a holiday instead of the jam-packed sardine can experience flying cattle class. Duh!
Airbus says that bad seats will be so last year (ho, ho, in the future all seats will be really bad?). The Concept Plane will also ditch traditional first, business, and economy classes, and incorporate individual areas such as the terribly worded Vitalizing Zone. Pause for nausea. This Zone will include vitamin and antioxidant-enriched air, mood lighting, aromatherapy and acupressure treatments. Acupressure is an ancient healing art using the fingers to gradually press key healing points, which stimulate the body's natural self-curative abilities. Developed in Asia over 5,000 years ago, acupressure points are stimulated to relieve pain, balance body energy, and maintain good health. Acupressure's healing touch also reduces muscular tension, increases circulation, and enables deep relaxation. To some of us this is more commonly known as sleeping. Acupressure shouldn’t be confused with acupuncture which uses needles to stimulate pressure points, a function already performed by airline seats.
Let’s not forget the Interactive Zone, where virtual pop-up projections will take passengers to whichever social scene they want to be (how about my destination, and make it snappy), even with holographic gaming and virtual changing rooms for active shoppers.
Finally, there’s the Smart Tech Zone, tailored towards the more functional-oriented passenger, describes by Airbus as "a chameleon-style offering, to meet individual needs ranging from a simple to a complete luxury service, but all allowing you to continue life as if on the ground". Good to know when travelling aboard an Airbus plane, we’ll always be “in the zone”.
The Airbus EVP of Engineering commented”The Airbus Concept Cabin…shows that the journey can be as much a voyage of discovery as the destination", paraphrasing Tao who said “The journey is the reward”. Ah yes…beam me up Scotty and let’s boldly go…