Aviation must be innovative or it will deteriorate. The Wright Brothers were the first catalysts and the drive to fly higher, faster, safer, greener and more efficient continues today. Below are three fascinating examples, all signify that this sector is moving crisply towards the future:
1. Concorde, or what was past, may actually now be present. The first supersonic commercial passenger jet was hardly a financial success (with lessons for Aerion below), but Club Concorde, a collection of the plane’s former pilots, airline executives, engineers and Concorde enthusiasts have announced a proposal to bring the legendary SST back in operation by 2019. With $250 million, they plan to restore their favorite aircraft and fly it for air shows, corporate events and for private charters.
Such flights will be very pricy and will have a limited set of routes due to environmental limitations. It was a great ride and the nostalgic passengers may well desire to relive the excitement of seeing the Mach meter hit the 2.00 number.
2. Brian Barents, co-chairman of Aerion, said “[t]he design (of the Aerion AS2) achieves a new level of supersonic and subsonic capability,” which in more specific terms means an aircraft that will be efficient and economical in both supersonic and subsonic flight. The first version will be a $120 million, nine- to 12-seat supersonic business jet. The most difficult remaining hurdle will be the environmental standards with which the plane must comply.
Mr. Barents, who has a lot of aviation manufacturing experience, especially at the high end of the market (Gulfstream and Learjet), expression of optimism, must include some sense that the AS2 will have operating costs which will make it marketable.
3. Tom Enders, Chairman and CEO of Airbus Group is quoted as saying:
“Airbus Perlan Mission II is a historic endeavour in the truest spirit of aviation’s earliest pioneers…The knowledge gained from this project will impact how the world understands and addresses climate change. But it will also help Airbus continue to innovate ways to fly higher, faster and cleaner, on Earth and possibly beyond.”
The occasion was The Perlan 2 glider reaching the edge of space. The flight of the Perlan (Icelandic for “pearl”) was notable because it is the world’s first engineless aircraft designed to attempt to set a new world altitude record for any airplane and it achieved its successful first flight today in a historic moment about 5,000 feet above Robert’s Field, the Redmond Municipal Airport in Oregon.
The Perlan Project is a volunteer-run, non-profit endeavor headed by leaders in aerospace and engineering. It is supported by Airbus Group and a group of other sponsors that includes Weather Extreme Ltd., United Technologies and BRS Aerospace. The pilots were Jim Payne and Morgan Sandercock.
The potential for this project is immense, as described here:
- “Understanding Weather – What happens at the highest levels of the stratosphere impacts weather around the globe, and Perlan 2 will be able to directly observe important atmospheric phenomena that previously have only been speculated about.
- Predicting Climate Change – Perlan 2 will collect and share data with atmospheric scientists worldwide, to improve climate models and more accurately predict climate change and its potential solutions.
- Diagnosing the Ozone Layer – Perlan 2 can take untainted air samples from the stratosphere to measure the levels of ozone-damaging chemicals and assess whether the ozone layer is replenishing or still depleting.
- Future of Aviation – Many of the high-altitude weather phenomena Perlan 2 will encounter have implications for aircraft performance and safety, especially as commercial aviation strives to operate aircraft at higher altitudes.
- Future of Space Travel – Perlan 2 will operate in atmospheric conditions roughly similar to those on Mars, providing insight into how wingborne aircraft could operate above the Martian surface.”
Innovation is thriving and this set of examples is not fully representative of all that is being done. Yes, America needs to continue to encourage STEM, but these exciting, real world efforts to advance science, technology, engineering and mathematics should inspire students to choose aviation as a profession.