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Reader flak brings down flying car

Boeing's Sonic Cruiser also grounded

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Letters Letters Thanks very much to all those readers who wrote to correct a shameful error in yesterday's Wright Brothers' centenary provokes aviation speculationfest. Andrew Wren outlines the case for the prosecution:

No doubt I'm the 439th plane geek to point this out, but Boeing canned the Sonic Cruiser last year in favour of the 7E7. It's a normal airliner, but (try to contain your excitement) marginally more efficient. Joy.

Joy indeed. The full spec of this groundbreaking aircraft can be found here. Boeing outlines the benefits of its innovative design thus: "The 7E7 base airplane and stretch airplane will carry 200-250 passengers in
tri-class configurations on routes between 7,800 and 8,300 nautical miles (14,500 to 15,400 kilometers) respectively. A third 7E7 family member, the shorter-range 7E7 will accommodate nearly 300 passengers in a two-class configuration and be optimized for routes of 3,500 nautical miles (6,500 km).

"In addition to bringing big-jet ranges to mid-size airplanes, the 7E7 will provide airlines with unmatched fuel efficiency, resulting in exceptional environmental performance. The airplane will use 20 percent less fuel for comparable missions than any other wide body airplane. It will also travel at speeds similar to today’s fastest wide bodies, Mach 0.85. Customers will enjoy forty- to sixty-percent more cargo revenue capacity."

Excitement beyond endurance, to be sure. What we clearly need is a viable flying car, and right now. Sadly, readers seem only too eager to shoot this dream from the skies. Dave Loveluck reckons the human factor may be the fantasy's undoing:

With regard to flying cars, the idea scares the living daylights out of me. Why? I find most drivers today, especially in the States, devote less than 10% of their cranial matter to the subject at hand - driving. The very thought of 98% of the drivers flying around with a cup of coffee in one hand, a mobile phone in the other, reading a newspaper or applying make-up/suckling their new-born what-have-you fills me with no desire to join the flying masses. It is bad enough on the roads.

How long will it be before the average lard-bucket decides that a flying car is just to passe, and that the real machine is a flying SUV, preferable a tamed military-looking over-indulgence!

Dave finds an ally in Don del Grande, who entertainingly outlines an aerial disaster scenario:

Isn't it obvious why there aren't any flying cars (besides the urban-legendary "JATO engine car" embedded in one of any number of cliff faces, depending on who is telling the story)?

What happens nowadays when Joe Lunchpail and Sally Soapopera go out for a leisurely drive, only to discover that neither one of them managed to fill the fuel tank, and the engine sputters to a halt in the middle of nowhere? A bit of namecalling, a cellphone call, an astonished look at what the rescue truck charges for a gallon of fuel, and they're back on their way.

Now, what happens when the engine cuts out at altitude? To paraphrase a Monty Python sketch, "notice how the cars do not so much fly as plummet." So tell me, what insurance company would be insane enough to offer "flying car insurance" at anything resembling a rate that the average driver could afford?

Yes, we'll concede that fully comprehensive cover for a flying Ford Mondeo could be a bit steep. Of course, that's just the beginning of your troubles, according to Chris:

Well, while you're waiting for your flying car to land on your lawn, may I suggest you spend the time getting a pilot's license? Unless the flying car manufacturers pull off something impressive, you'll need one just to get if off the ground.. oh, and don't forget the red tape with the CAA, log your flight plan with your controller airport, etc, etc, ad nausium.

Or, put another way, short of a complete rebuild of the entire aviation industry, don't expect to be able to have anything like car-like freedom even if you do ever get a flying car...

So, practicalities aside, it'll be the circling black helicopters of the aviation industry which finally force the flying car permanently back into its hangar. Here's why, according to Craig Taylor:

Want a flying car sooner? Send a donation to Moller! Seriously, a little thought will show why we don't yet have a flying car, even though the basic technology drivers have been around for at least 10 years (graphite composites, "fly by wire", high power/weight engines). The question is; How can Boeing, GM, NASA or any other rich, established organization make any money or political points designing and building it?

Boeing is in the business of building great big planes that sell for tens (or hundreds!) of millions of dollars. They will not compete against themselves by placing about half of their future passengers on small, low cost "air taxies". And they just aren't in the mass production business.

Also, look what happened to the small aircraft makers (at least in the US) over the last 20 years once the tort lawyers found out that juries are ignorant and think all companies are "made of money". Also, the major airlines, who are the natural customers for these big passenger jets, think the whole idea of personal aircraft is heresy. They LIKE hub and spoke. I can imagine a not-so-subtile boycot of the aircraft manufacturer who dared to fund such a project.

That seems to just about cover it. Rather pathetically, though, I am still keeping one eye on the driveway this morning in the forlorne hope that an enormous truck bearing my flying car will disgorge its magnificent cargo in time for a Xmas Day spin around/above the block.

And while we all live in hope of a happier future free of these earthbound shackles, here's a provocative aviation endnote from Dr David G. Lovering:

But the Wright bros. weren't the first as any Brasilian will tell you! Santos duMont.

Indeed, and he's got a Rio airport named after him to prove it. Happy Xmas. ®

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