Five Futuristic Forms of Air Travel
1) Manned Cloud
The Manned Cloud, a concept design for a flying hotel, could make it around the world in three days with 40 guests and 15 staff. The Manned Cloud and other lighter-than-air craft could usher in a Second Golden Age of Airships, not seen since before the Hindenberg disaster in 1937. The Manned Cloud would cruise at 80 mph, with a top speed of 105 mph. It would contain numerous on-board amenities, including a restaurant, a library, a fitness suite, spa, and even a sun deck. Its purpose would be to take passengers to exotic locales while eliminating the need for ecologically damaging hotels. With dimensions of 210 x 82 x 52 m (690 x 270 x 170 ft), the Manned Cloud would be spacious indeed. The craft was designed by Jean-Marie Massaud in cooperation with ONERA, the French aerospace lab. Similar designs include the Strato Cruiser and Aeroscraft ML866.
The Quiet Supersonic Transport (QSST) is a supersonic version of the very light jet, with a speed between Mach 1.6 and 1.8 (1,056 to 1,188 mph). The QSST uses a aerodynamically contoured fuselage to create multiple quiet sonic booms rather than a single loud boom, giving it a sonic wake about a hundred times milder the Concorde’s. Instead of taking six hours to make it from Los Angeles to New York, a cross-country flight in the QSST would only require a couple hours. The QSST has been under development by Lockheed Martin’s famous Skunk Works division under a six-year, $25 million contract. If all goes well, the QSST will reach the market in 2014.
3) Hypersonic airliners
The Reaction Engines A2 hypersonic airliner, the design of which was only announced a couple months ago, is truly impressive. This aircraft would travel at over Mach 5 (4,000 mph), enough to make it from Europe to Australia in under five hours. The plane would use novel air routes, including a path over the North Pole. With a length of 143 m (469 ft), the A2 would be twice as long as most commercial planes, and able to hold 300 passengers. The company that designed the plane, Reaction Engines Limited, claims it could be commercialized by 2030 if there is sufficient market demand. This plane would have a range of 20,000 km (12,500 mi), longer than any current commercial aircraft. Environmentally friendly, the A2 would be powered by liquid hydrogen.
4) Very light jets (microjets)
Very light jets (VLJs), small jets that use regional airports and carry only about 10 people — have already begun to compete with commercial airliners. Two companies, Dayjet and Linear Air, have recently started service in the United States and Canada. Very light jets, having a much lower overhead than major airliners, could decentralize air travel and make it even more widely available. Bypassing crowded airports, microjets could cut 1-3 hours off a typical plane trip.
5) Orbital spaceplanes
If Virgin Galactic’s suborbital SpaceShipTwo (pictured above) proves successful, it will be followed soon thereafter by SpaceShipThree, an orbital spaceplane. SpaceShipThree would travel at orbital speeds — over Mach 20 — making it far faster than the other craft listed here. The craft could be used merely for a short orbital jaunt, a visit to a space hotel, or even as a jump platform for spacediving. If SpaceShipTwo does well, SpaceShipThree could be rolled out as early as 2010. The craft could take a shot at the $50 million America’s Space Prize, sponsored by Bigelow Aerospace, though it would take at least several times that to develop.