100 years on
Magazine Within a Magazine. Celebrating 200 Years of Flight
- By the Editors
- Air & Space magazine, January 2004
(Page 4 of 4)
The fliers are never sold but instead leased to users so that the manufacturer retains perpetual control of the vehicles in order to track them , recall them if necessary, and eventually to scrap them when their time is up. There are no antique fliers for collectors to restore, but on the other hand, there are no ancient-and dangerous-clunkers plying the airways either.
The creation of rugged, durable composite materials with some qualities of living tissue provides the basis for extremely lightweight designs that change shape in complex ways to alter their own aerodynamics as well as their physical configuration. Ducts and exhaust outlets appear and disappear. Stub wings extend, retract, and change shape to meet command requirements from the vehicle management system, which is made up of microelectronics embedded throughout the material. Thump it with your fingers and the material resounds like wood, but apply the tiniest electrical signal in the form of packets of code and it responds as adroitly as a big muscle.
The propulsor, with an advanced ceramic composite core, provides lift and forward thrust through variable ducts that morph on command. Endurance of about an hour and a half between fuelings is sufficient for almost any typical trip.
A parachute recovery system canopy is embedded within the outermost layer of the craft's upper surface at the time of manufacture. While this part of the system is a permanent part of the craft throughout its service life of roughly 20 years, the command module and activators are test and replaced about once every five years or so, depending upon local conditions.
Roads, highways, the interstate system-all infrastructure related to the wheeled culture of the automobile-is gradually removed and replaced with either greenspace or buildings. As paved surface withers across the landscape, groundwater and major aquifiers are replenished by the improved percolation of rain water.