Wealth Blog

Flight of fancy?

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 April, 2013, 9:15am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 April, 2013, 9:15am


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Imagine getting on a plane and finding your cabin baggage already in the over head bin when you reach your seat. When you sit down, the seat adapts to your body shape and absorbs your surplus energy to power the plane. The cabin is transparent and as you gaze out at a far distant peak a hologram pop up to tell you its name and how high it is.

This is a look inside the Airbus Future Concept Plane, part of their 2050 vision of the future. According to Ian Scoley, Airbus head of industrial design in an airbus.com video: “The cabin membrane allows the interior to go transparent or opaque or even control the quality of the air that comes in, so if you are feeling tired or dehydrated it can bring water or ionisation into the air to make you feel better.

“We are using holographic displays and intelligent gestural controls, which mean we have a virtual environment combined with a human environment – one second you’re trying on clothes with a virtual screen, and the next you could be having a beer with someone on the other side of the planet.”

And it’s goodbye to economy, business and first class cabins, the mid- to long-haul Concept Plane flies 250 to 350 passengers and will have three zones – Vitalising, Interaction and Smart Tech. So basically, this 'intelligent' concept cabin of the aircraft of the future has first, business and economy cabins replaced by three zones: relaxation in the front, work in the back, and a bar for socializing. Passengers will be able to see everything around them. Not good for nervous flyers who might want to use those old-tech eye shades for take off and landing.

In-flight entertainment will be powered by passengers' body heat. Apparently the technology even means travellers could read bedtime stories to the kids back home on the ground. How Airbus plan to make the plant-based, transparent aircraft 'skin' remains a bit of a mystery, but its fun to imagine it anyway.

Each experience will still, however, be linked to your budget – in short, airlines still need to make money. The fantasy extends to the possibility of enjoying a round of virtual golf or a cocktail at the pop-up bar, before returning to your seat in the tech zone at the back for a movie or chat with your family back home on your personal, gesture-controlled screen. It goes without saying the aircraft would have mobile phones, wifi, the works, for connectivity anywhere you want.

All this takes flying sci-fi to its limits and even Airbus admits this plane will probably never exist, at least not in the next 40 years or so. For now it’s an entertaining engineer’s dream. In reality, because the lifespan of an aircraft is 25 to 30 years, Boeing will be building B787s for the next 20 years or more, so these aircraft will be on the market for 40 or 50 years, maybe even longer. Well that’s what Boeing told Business Traveller.


Supersonic Private Jets

One futuristic project that might actually happen is the return of supersonic, for smaller, which means, private, jets. According to Business Traveller, it’s something NASA is also working on. “The real key is enabling supersonic over land, which means cutting down the noise. They need to minimize the sonic boom – if a supersonic aircraft flies overhead, hear a kind of thunderclap because the jet is flying faster than the speed of sound. This generates a shockwave and rapid pressure change. Anyone old enough to remember Concorde recalls this.

Boffins have been trying to quantify the sound of the sonic boom to work out how to make it less bothersome for people inside and outside houses. Research is trying to shape the aircraft to reduce the size of that shockwave to make the pressure jump less acute. Everything with aircraft design is a trade–off - so if you reduce the boom, you must also keep the drag low, because if you are quiet but guzzle gas, then it isn’t a viable aircraft.

Engineers say a return to Concorde-level speeds is possible, and a supersonic business jet could be predicted much sooner than 2050.