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Back in the olden days when Dennis Miller was sane and relevant, he had a catchphrase on his HBO show: "I don't want to get off on a rant here..." after which he would invariably go off on a rant.  Today, Miller is a fringe nut on a fringe nut network who says things no one is interested in hearing, and no one with a mind could agree with.  Why does this come to mind when the subject is Boeing's 787 "Dreamliner"?  Quite simply, because (a)I intend to go off on a rant, and (b)the subject of that rant, Boeing - and to be quite frank, even its only competitor, Airbus - have offered nothing new to the world in two generations.  Their planes are sardine cans designed to meet the bottom-of-the-barrel bottom lines of airlines who today view passengers the way that slave ship captains once viewed Africans - cargo to be transported at minimum cost with minimum comfort.

A diagram of the future of air transport:

slaveship

I've said this before, and I'll say it again - this was Boeing's contribution to the world circa 1957, half a fucking century ago (though I can't attest to when the photo was taken):

Boeing-707

And it was genius, there's no doubt about it.  Just a decade earlier, people were flying around in propeller-driven steel cans a fraction of the size of that thing.  But wait, there's more!  Here's Boeing's masterful contribution to 21st century aviation, a couple of generations later - as you can see, they've continued the tradition of disruptive technological innovation:

72814513

Are you as speechless with future shock as I am?  They've halved the number of engines, increased the fuel efficiency, and are using somewhat lighter materials.  The future is now!  We've sure left those bygone eras in the dust with this barn-burner!  Oh, but wait - it doesn't even work yet.  They were years behind schedule and over-budget, and yet even when they finally got around to releasing this slightly improved iteration of their genius invention from 1957, it still didn't work properly.

See, this is what happens when you substitute complexity for actual progress.  It just makes things harder, not easier.  That's the opposite of technological advancement.  Unfortunately, the Holy Free Market - much like the Holy Roman Empire - profits from the degeneration rather than advancement of society.  Don't believe me?  Here's what Boeing had been working on in the lead-up to the Dreamliner, the Sonic Cruiser:

Sonic Cruiser

Here was another concept they were working on to give passengers more space - the 797 Blended Wing Body:

Boeing797

Boeing 797 2

The Sonic Cruiser was to be a radical, delta-winged aircraft flying at a cruising speed just a tiny smidge beneath the speed of sound.  But, see, airliners weren't interested in faster travel - even though passengers would have fucking adored shorter flights - because, once again, passengers are just cargo and speed is less important than volume.  Did Boeing, this massive, multi-billion-dollar corporation, invest its own money in pursuing the concept anyway and try to offer both options?  Did it attempt to use its resources to advance the state of the art regardless of the short-sightedness of the airline industry?  Of course not.  Instead, it made a slightly improved version of the Same Old Shit it had been selling since the Dawn of Time.  And, as usually happens when you do that, said Shit just plain didn't work properly, because there's only so far you can push the same old technology.

Now, don't get me wrong, eventually the 787 will "work."  It will eventually be made to transport people in sardine-can fashion to the profit-maximizing volume of the goddamn airlines.  It will function, after unbelievably massive investment and delay, as the Sonic Cruiser would have at a fraction of the cost, without ever troubling the dreams of the airline executive staff who are terrified at the idea of change.  But then that will pretty much be it.  You cannot push the tube-plane any further than this, and airlines are too degenerate to accept anything more advanced, so something has to give.  Either we enter an aviation Dark Age, or someone with money builds a goddam mass-transport jet worthy of the 21st century.

So I'd like to offer an open invitation to none other than Elon Musk to rescue us from these putzes once he's done sending people to Mars and making the internal combustion engine extinct.  If anyone can do it, he can.  Build us a real, state-of-the-art mass transport plane to once and for all nail the coffin shut on post-WW2 technology.  I know you're busy, Mr. Musk, but keep it in mind.

Sat Jan 19, 2013 at  5:13 AM PT: I may have been in error about what the Sonic Cruiser would have looked like.  The images I use are the 797 "blended wing body."  They had been used in articles promoting the Sonic Cruiser at the time, so whoever used them might have been in error.  A Google Image search of Sonic Cruiser shows something very different.


Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 5:20 AM PT: I've fixed the image issue, and added one that shows the Sonic Cruiser.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Engineering Question.... (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, a2nite, ColoTim, Chi, Lujane

    Can a supersonic airline be developed that would fly at supersonic speeds without the supersonic boom?

    If not, how high would an aircraft have to fly to ensure that the supersonic boom not impact the environment.  The Concorde flew at over 60k feet, yet could not fly over the USA due to the boom.

    Learn about Centrist Economics, learn about Robert Rubin's Hamilton Project. www.hamiltonproject.org

    by PatriciaVa on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 02:45:38 PM PST

  •  The sonic cruiser (4+ / 0-)

    Looks like it could hold more passengers too.  Was that part of the idea of it?

    Republicans: Taking the country back ... to the 19th century

    by yet another liberal on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 03:06:37 PM PST

    •  I think so, yes. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      yet another liberal, FarWestGirl

      But airlines are ultra-short-sighted.  They'll take a small, immediate advance over a slightly longer, much bigger advance without hesitation.

      Pour yourself into the future.

      by Troubadour on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 03:20:45 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  The cattle car with wings... that is a function (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        SethRightmer, Troubadour

        of the airlines, not Boeing.  It is the airlines that push the seats 1" closer together to get one more row in.  The only rows with decent leg room are the ones on the bulkhead, entrances and emergency rows.

        "Death is the winner in any war." - Nightwish/Imaginareum/Song of myself.

        by doingbusinessas on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 04:14:59 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  yup (3+ / 0-)

          boeing also makes planes for asian airlines, which have far more leg room.

        •  And who do we thank for flying cattle cars? (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Troubadour, greengemini

          Ronald Reagan.

          Troubadour, your rant was off target. Sardine cans aren't Boeing's fault, thank the airlines for that, and thank Reagan for the state of our airlines. Airlines can order the same plane in many different configurations, THEY are choosing to pack us in. Of course, we could always choose to forgo the cheap option, spend a little more, and get more room.

          And I just have to say, Musk isn't all that. Not that he's a bad guy or anything, but if you can afford anything Musk is producing, you can pay for first class airfare. And, you know he made all his money off of PayPal's usurious rates, right? Anyway, he has a lot of good ideas, but I'm withholding judgement until I see some actual affordable products.

          •  Boeing could push the technology if they cared. (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Bronx59, Roger Fox, greengemini

            Elon Musk is pushing rocket technology without the prior approval of customers, for fuck's sake.  SpaceX is creating demand instead of just reacting to it.  Boeing could do that if its executives weren't a bunch of stock-market-driven degenerates, but they are.

            Pour yourself into the future.

            by Troubadour on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 04:58:01 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Musk is blowing his own money. (0+ / 0-)

              He's a rich guy having fun with his billions, not a company trying to make money for investors. He has no competition ready to eat his lunch, like Boeing has. Look, rockets are fun and all, but Musk has done nothing all that interesting or innovative for the common man. So what if movie stars and oil barons may someday go into space on Musk's rocket? Who cares if that small-dick-compensator-mobile runs on electricity or gas?

              Any con artist can "create demand" but that is meaningless. Satisfying demand is where it is at. Sorry that Boeing isn't catering to your tech dreams, but I think you may be complaining about the wrong folks, for the wrong reasons.

              Look, Boeing aren't saints. There are serious issues with how they built the Dreamliner. They outsourced far too much. They are also a huge military contractor, making all sorts of nasty weapons.You could have criticized them for any of that.

              This article is just silly. For fuck's sake.

              •  Are you thinking of Rutan & Branson's (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                FarWestGirl

                Virgin Galactic?

                Musk's competition is Boeing and the like, and his SpaceX outfit has plenty of Falcon orders.

                And yes, the article is silly.

                Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

                by Simplify on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 06:15:04 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

              •  ZOMG. I literally said "ZOMG" out loud. (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Roger Fox
                He's a rich guy having fun with his billions
                Look, rockets are fun and all, but Musk has done nothing all that interesting or innovative for the common man.
                So what if movie stars and oil barons may someday go into space on Musk's rocket? Who cares if that small-dick-compensator-mobile runs on electricity or gas?

                Any con artist can "create demand" but that is meaningless. Satisfying demand is where it is at. Sorry that Boeing isn't catering to your tech dreams, but I think you may be complaining about the wrong folks, for the wrong reasons.

                I don't know where to begin with what's wrong with your comments, but I'll do my best.  "Having fun with your billions" does not involve working 20 hours a day and flying between LA and Fremont on a constant basis to manage TWO massively innovative companies.  Elon Musk is the closest thing to the savior of humankind alive today.  

                Secondly, the "interests of the common man" have never begun with the common man.  Trains did not begin with the common man - they were an aristocrat's pastime.  Ditto airplanes.  Horses were once the province of lords.  Seriously, you don't know what the hell you're talking about.

                "Satisfying demand is where it's at."  Yeah, so your version of humanity is just a bunch of holes to fill until we're nothing at all?  Ugh, you don't get it at all.  You get nothing.  We are more than a bunch of needs to fill!  Dammit, man.

                Pour yourself into the future.

                by Troubadour on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 06:17:22 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

            •  Boeing is pushing the commerical (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Troubadour

              technology for aircraft as fast as their conservative hearts can go.

              Yes both Hairbus and Boeing can only develop so fast.  It has taken a couple of years to get the newer technology into the 737 to be the 737 Max.  

              The Dreamliner is so far the best of the new technology for commercial aircraft can be.  Yes the batteries to start the APU are a bad design.  It has taken how long to find out about that?  Some of those aircraft have been sitting around for several years getting the engineering updates applied to them BEFORE they can be sent to the customer.  The deliveries that are happening how are a mix of just off the line with the engineering updated.  It will take a couple more years to work off the engineering backlog done.

              Yes, they have to answer to the investors/stockholders/etc.  Most are very conservative on decisions and apply that to all parts of the company.

              "Death is the winner in any war." - Nightwish/Imaginareum/Song of myself.

              by doingbusinessas on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 08:21:17 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  Follow the money (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            doingbusinessas

            If airlines could make more money selling fewer seats for higher fares then they would.

            They're supplying what their customers demand: minimum fares at the cost of comfort.

            •  But that's not the case. (0+ / 0-)

              The option to go faster doesn't even exist, so how the hell would they know?  The last time such an option existed was the Concorde - technology from 40 years ago that could only fly over oceans!  They haven't bothered to develop any fast options since then.  Zilch.

              Pour yourself into the future.

              by Troubadour on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 05:09:03 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

    •  Correction to the post: photos are BWB (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      wu ming, MWV

      The Blended Wing-Body was a project started by McDonnell Douglas and then continued when Boeing merged with the company. It is a subsonic design, one that would travel at about Mach 0.82 like current airliners, only it would be up to 30% more fuel-efficient (lighter weight due to shared structure for both cabin pressure and wing bending loads) than normal tube-and-wings designs. I think that Boeing will not build it because they're not as willing to take risks (~$6B investment before a dollar comes back) as they were long ago with the 747.

      The Sonic Cruiser was a separate Boeing project to reduce travel times by something like 15%. A lot of people were mystified by the rationale for it, because it would've been a more expensive plane that burned more fuel. Boeing cancelled it.

      Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

      by Simplify on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 04:09:38 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Northrups idea from the 1930's (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      KenBee, Troubadour

      Otherwise known today as the 797 blended wing concept.

      FDR 9-23-33, "If we cannot do this one way, we will do it another way. But do it we will.

      by Roger Fox on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 07:08:57 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  "smidge beneath the speed of sound" (4+ / 0-)

    The Airbus 380 flies at 0.89M.

    So, why invest billions of dollars in an entirely new concept for an upside of 11% increase in speed, at perhaps a significant increase in fuel consumption?

    Learn about Centrist Economics, learn about Robert Rubin's Hamilton Project. www.hamiltonproject.org

    by PatriciaVa on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 03:08:30 PM PST

  •  Hm, I was due to fly on a 787 in March. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ImpactAv, Troubadour, ColoTim

    I guess they'll stick me on an A330 instead.

    The 787 actually is a pretty nice plane for passengers... much larger windows, higher ceilings, better lighting, better entertainment.

    The problem was that they tried to produce too many, too fast, imo.

    If you're looking for ground-breaking innovation, you'll have to look at concepts like the EADS/Airbus ZEHST.  Don't expect it to be built anytime soon, though :/  :

    http://techcrunch.com/...

    "A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle" - Mohammed Nabbous, R.I.P.

    by Lawrence on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 03:11:06 PM PST

  •  ppl want cheap flights, airlines want cheap planes (6+ / 0-)

    The reason supersonic air travel never really took off is that for most passengers, ticket price trumps both travel time, while rich people would rather spend their money on luxury and privacy (i.e. more upper class than you've ever seen ... or a private plane).  Concorde failed on both counts: it was too expensive for regular fliers and it couldn't meet rich people's demands for luxury either.

    Something's wrong when the bad guys are the utopian ones.

    by Visceral on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 03:11:44 PM PST

    •  And even at its high price, every Concorde ticket. (4+ / 0-)

      ...was subsidized by passengers from British Airways and Air France's "conventional" flights.

      Learn about Centrist Economics, learn about Robert Rubin's Hamilton Project. www.hamiltonproject.org

      by PatriciaVa on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 03:15:11 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  The problem was that they never moved beyond (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      PatriciaVa, Bronx59, greengemini

      the Concorde to a profitable niche.   Unless every single step of the way is profitable, the airlines just can't be bothered.  And that'd degenerate, because not every step of the way can be profitable, yet there are profitable plateaus several steps ahead of wherever they happen to be.

      Pour yourself into the future.

      by Troubadour on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 03:22:55 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  that would be a supersonic 747-sized plane (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Troubadour, PatriciaVa, wu ming, Simplify

        The 747 revolutionized air travel by dropping ticket prices dramatically and doing so mainly because of its sheer size.  Before it, all plane travel was pretty much only for rich people: everyone else took the train or an ocean liner.  Again, ticket price and/or luxury trumped speed.

        And that's assuming that bigger planes alone would have made supersonic air travel profitable.  When your operating costs are already unprofitably high, a bigger and much heavier (square-cube law) plane would have been a very counterintuitive solution to say the least.

        I understand the geek appeal, but passengers and airlines are looking for something very different.  Simple, rugged, and fuel-sipping planes that offer rock-bottom prices are the better bet for both manufacturers and operators and whoever can push the technology in that direction is going to shape the short and long-term future of air travel.

        I think we're more likely to see a renaissance of propellers (slower and shorter range, but again cheaper to operate, also quieter, shorter runways, etc.) than a renaissance of supersonic jets.  I also wouldn't rule out an alternative to the airplane itself (HSR for regional travel) and a subsequent shift towards a niche market.

        Supersonic isn't going to get big because it muscles out an older technology; it'll happen if and when something new comes along that only supersonic can do well.

        Something's wrong when the bad guys are the utopian ones.

        by Visceral on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 03:58:24 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  You have a point. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Visceral, PatriciaVa

          I just really, really hate that point, because you're basically describing an aviation Dark Age.

          Pour yourself into the future.

          by Troubadour on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 04:01:08 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  invent something new to do (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Simplify, Troubadour

            History suggests that the ambition often comes before the technology and spurs its creation and development.  People are surprisingly willing to brute force their way into the future with yesterday's technology (we went to the Moon with slide rules), but once the thing becomes established and routine, priorities change.  Commercial air travel is plateauing and might strategically regress because there's no upside to the higher technology.

            Maybe what that means is that the future of supersonic jets isn't in commercial air travel, but something we haven't thought up yet  The biggest plans for space grew out of a desire to facilitate global communications (and military intelligence) ... then some smartass invented the microchip and satellites got super cheap, so no need for big space stations and the infrastructure necessary to build and supply them.  Today, the cutting edge of space is not governments and megacorps doing their big serious things, but rich nerds fired by boyhood fantasies.

            The future isn't going to happen for yesterday's reasons.

            Something's wrong when the bad guys are the utopian ones.

            by Visceral on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 04:17:42 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  It might end up being props for coach (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Visceral

          and jets for first class, if we're going to put a cost on climate impact.

          I'm hoping the current crop of partially buoyant airships (smaller envelope that requires thrust or body lift to fly) pans out, especially for air cargo. We really ought to bring back the hydrogen airship, both for efficiency and because of globally limited helium resources. It's been three quarters of a century since the Hindenburg, and the technology has long since improved!

          Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

          by Simplify on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 04:41:06 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  The future you're painting fucking sucks. (0+ / 0-)

            Pour yourself into the future.

            by Troubadour on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 05:04:23 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Better than resource wars & mass extinction (0+ / 0-)

              Pick one way or the other! We're all stuck here, together.

              Government and laws are the agreement we all make to secure everyone's freedom.

              by Simplify on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 05:24:51 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  how about we send the airships to Venus? (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Simplify, Troubadour

              They'd be perfect over there.  Floating 50 miles up where the temperatures and pressure are more Earth-like than anywhere else in the solar system, you'd only need protection from sulfuric acid vapor (glass textile?).  Breathable air is a lifting gas on Venus, so imagine how much colony weight that the Hindenburg's 7 million cubic feet of hydrogen could support.  Maybe enough for a biological life support system (30 tons of photosynthetic biomass per person)?  Imagine a space colony full of plants.  If it's a rigid airship, then the gas can be at ambient pressure, so it'll leak only very slowly if punctured.  Buckminster Fuller had an idea for a mile-wide tensegrity-framed spherical aerostat that needed to be only 1 degree warmer than outside in order to lift up right here on Earth.  Send something to Venus that uses temperature for additional lift and the whole thing could be filled with air for an incredible amount of elbow room (and more safety).

              Something's wrong when the bad guys are the utopian ones.

              by Visceral on Fri Jan 18, 2013 at 07:09:09 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  It is actually a pretty attractive prospect. (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Visceral

                Venus is a lot easier to reach in orbital terms than Mars, because there are more launch windows and the two orbits are closer together.  Gravity on an air station would be 90% of g, same as on the surface, so it would actually be easier to get to it from orbit and leave again than to launch from and get back to Earth.  A lot easier -  that 10% loss of gravity makes a huge difference in rocket practicalities.  Plus, as you say, the temperature and pressure would be hospitable, so the only thing that really needs guarding against are the chemicals.

                Pour yourself into the future.

                by Troubadour on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 05:50:07 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  glad you think it would be easy to get into orbit (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Troubadour

                  I found the idea of a rocket hanging from balloons to be the weak point of the whole venture.  Inflatable Transhab modules and inflatable integrated photovoltaic (IPV) solar collectors (which do exist) can at least handle some of their own weight.

                  Something's wrong when the bad guys are the utopian ones.

                  by Visceral on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 08:39:38 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  At 0.9g, a lot of options become practical (1+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    Visceral

                    that are not practical on Earth - e.g., single-stage-to-orbit or even winged, air-breathing rockets that fly like aircraft up to altitude before launching.  

                    And actually there's nothing wrong with launching a rocket from a balloon - it doesn't need anything to push against, because the thrust comes from expelling mass out the back regardless of whether the exhaust encounters any obstacles.  So you could actually just drop the rocket and then let it fire when it's far away from the balloon.  If something goes wrong, just eject in a pod with its own balloon and float/propel back to the station.

                    Pour yourself into the future.

                    by Troubadour on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 06:15:56 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

  •  Airports would have to be rebuilt to (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour

    accommodate these big things, I thought I read that somewhere.

    But that might've been about the idea for a big flying wing with pivoting vertical stabilizers and engines, that would take off as a straight wing and then get swept as its speed increased.

    Anyway I wonder if the layout of the airports limits the shape that planes can have.

  •  Not so fast batman. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Troubadour, Sharon Wraight

    The buyer is responsible for interior layout.

  •  Progress means going toward what we need (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Simplify

    Today's airliners are in the same league as the 707 for higher-farther-faster, but you would have gotten a jaw-drop and a you're-stupid stare from a 707 engineer if you'd told him how fuel-efficient they are.

    Much as I'd like to be able to fly to Australia from the US at the speed of an SR-71, it was time to put the engineering into efficiency rather than glamor.

    Now, something that was only four times as fast as Amtrak and equally comfortable, that would be a winner.

    •  We don't "need" air travel at all. (0+ / 0-)

      We don't "need" the internet.  We don't "need" electricity.  These were all things pursued for the potential to enable humanity.  So "higher-faster-faster" is indeed a valid end in itself, because it creates entirely new possibilities with every increment forward.

      Pour yourself into the future.

      by Troubadour on Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 05:51:52 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

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