100 years on
Magazine Within a Magazine. Celebrating 200 Years of Flight
- By the Editors
- Air & Space magazine, January 2004
(Page 3 of 4)
The merging of the so-called "hard" and "soft" materials into bio-alloys that mix traditional metal alloys in matrix form with chemically and molecularly versatile elements such as carbon, silicon, and lithium in combination with synthetic cellular elements that mimic mitochondria, vacuoles, and microtubules in their interaction with the medium surrounding them has literally recast material sciences and altered design and manufacturing. By managing the properties of these alloys as well as distributing actuation at a molecular level, the old mechanical picture of everything from vehicles to building construction has become no more than a fond memory.
Two-century-old works of fiction that describe morphing vehicles do not get it all quite right, which is not so surprising considering the abrupt changes in direction the technology has taken.
Offshore international airports
To remove the noise of hypersonic aircraft from the settled areas of the mainland, nodes for hypersonic travel begin in 2040 to be located offshore near the major markets they serve. The first of these are built about 45 miles off the California coast of the United States and some 150 miles southeast of Okinawa-Japan doesn't want to hear the faintest rumbling of thrusters-and connected via high-speed magnetic levitation trains and aircraft to terminals on the mainland. This same model was repeated across the globe as former land-based international terminals for flagships of the fleet became secondary airports acting as distribution points for passengers and freight to inter-urban areas, and eventually to the metro-rurals as the population dispersed.
Older spanloaders mix somewhat awkwardly with the scampering hyperliners, but their low-cost inter-airport services are crucial to knitting the entire global system together. Nearly inaudible and completely automatic, the slower "spans" pioneers the pilotless massive-database systems that now also operates personal fliers.
Catapults are introduced in the second-generation airport designs and during renovation of the first generation in order to minimize the required installed thrust aboard hypersonic liners. Requirements for takeoff thrust acceleration create a weight penalty for the precisely designed hyper-liners, which are extremely sensitive to each gram of structural mass in terms of economic return. By offloading propulsion and fuel weight to the catapult, the designers of hypersonic airliners see the new technology come into its own.
At roughly the same time, the International Aerospace Development Organization devises a new configuration for travel in which passengers and the vehicles that carry them are forever spared the necessity to match up on sprawling airport gate complexes designed to accommodate the outside dimensions of immense aircraft. Replacing the outmoded model is the current pod-based scheme in which passengers board containers that mate with airframes at a docking facility. Electrical, signal, and environmental connections are made automatically as the two are mated. Pods are self-contained escape and rescue elements in the event of catastrophic airframe mechanical failure. Ballistic parachutes lower the pods to the ground or to a water landing, where the pods can remain afloat indefinitely until rescue can be effected. Synthetic vision forms an uninterrupted lining along the walls and overhead of the interior of each pod and provides a passenger selectable image that can follow each person's visual cone if they choose to move about the cabin at cruise; most travelers don't choose to, preferring to absorb information on the region they'll be visiting by means of multimedia "fountains," a term that describes the high rate of transfer and intensity of experience.
The Neil A. Armstrong Intercontinental Airport, located well west of San Diego, takes the traditional offshore architecture to a whole new level, recognizing the fact that these airports have increasingly become destinations in their own right. Their enormous, durable structure provides a natural site for a wide variety of service industries unrelated to the international air travel that was their original purpose. Hotels, free trade zone giga-malls, communication and entertainment headquarters, and marine adventure services, to cite just a few examples, abound at Armstrong and others now on the drawing boards. Travelers and visitors to Armstrong enjoy many levels of underwater viewing spaces, shops, theaters, and arcades. When the Google Network broadcasts its Millennium Holiday Special in 2100 from the Leroy Chiao International Airport serving the island complex of the International Space Elevator, with hologram repeaters projecting the show in the skies over every major city of population two million or more, the company makes ratings history with a 97 share.
The rebounding of biomass that gathered speed after 2025 altered so many historic assumptions about transportation, energy management, and the global environment that government and industry were able to draw up a future scenario from a clean sheet of paper. The drive toward dramatic increases in fuel efficiency for surface transport-wheeled vehicles-yields to new calculations that assume the elimination of all paved surfaces needed to support wheels and the benefits that accrue if transportation becomes almost entirely airborne. Managed by a series of massive information nodes located approximately equidistant around the globe, the global airspace system represents the unlocking of personal, commercial, and industrial transport from centuries of surface-bound limitations.