Re: End of airliner evolution?

From:         Steve Lacker <slacker@arlut.utexas.edu>
Organization: applied research laboratories
Date:         11 Oct 96 19:44:51 
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IMacduff wrote:
>
> I would like to hear others views on where advances in aeronautics will
> take us and how far away is the end.

I don't know that you can definitively say that there is "an end." After
all, people said man would never fly. I agree that sitting here, not being
an expert in aeronautics, I don't see where we are going next, but that
doesn't mean that the next revolution is not lurking 20 years, or 10 years
in the future.

> I believe that fifty years from now we will be flying airliners very
> similar to todays, with only minor enhancements.

That is not at all unlikely, but it is not a given either. Our
transportation technology seems to be in an extended period of refinement,
rather than innovation- this applies to everything from cars to airplanes.
Compare the cars of the 1920s to the cars of the 1950s- there was a vast
change over that 40-year span. Cars went from average speeds of ~30 mph,
in the open air without air condidioning and with wooden-spoked wheels,
to enclosed, air conditioned, automatic-transmissioned machines with top
speeds in the vicinity of 120-130 mph (OK, thats a Chrysler 300, the
"average" 50's car topped out in the 80-100 mph range). In that time
period, airliners went from tri-motors to the 707. Now compare the ends
of the next 50 year period: 1950s to present. Cars are no faster, but they
are lighter and more efficient (slightly...) and are cleaner running.
They are generally safer, and while I would say they are no more reliable,
they achieve the same reliability with far less maintenance. Note however,
that a 50's car can drive happily in rush hour traffic with modern cars-
thats not true of a 20's car! Airplanes have gone from the 707 to the 777
and A330. They are no faster, but are quieter, cleaner, more efficient,
and carry more. But again, 707's are still out there working away beside
the new equipment. Heck, so are DC-3's!  The first 40 year period I
mentioned contained a transportation revolution; the next 50 years saw
gradual, but relentless, refinement of the concept. However, we never know
when the next revolution is at hand, or exactly what that revolution will
be.

> After all, once you can pinpoint your position in real time
> anywhere in the world to within a few feet and carry a topographic map of
> the entire world on CD ROM (not far away), where do you go from there?

Anywhere you want to, but while using less fuel, spending less on
maintenance, making less noise, and perhaps going a little faster :-)
After all, pinpointing your location doesn't affect the problem of actually
*getting* to another location.

Or maybe someone will figure out a way to implement the 'Star Trek'
transporter, and all the planes will get parked. More likely, the next
revolution will be something very obscure that few people, if any, have
even thought of today.

--
Stephen Lacker
Applied Research Laboratories, The University of Texas at Austin
PO Box 8029, Austin TX 78713-8029
512-835-3286	slacker@arlut.utexas.edu