December 5, 2008 To celebrate its 85th anniversary, Finnair has served up a blue-sky vision of what the next 85 years of aviation could hold. Concentrating mainly on potential developments in environmentally friendly technology and lightweight material, the Departure 2093 website lists five aircraft that could grace our sky later this century.
Finnair A600–850 M
The A600-850 M resembles a normal plane that has been squeezed in Photoshop until it takes on the proportions of a dart, complete with needle-thin nose. The plane is described as a “zero-emission supersonic aircraft,” with the speed and efficiency attributed to the super-light nanoceramic material used to construct the fuselage. The design is obviously an extrapolation of the recent trend to use carbon composite materials in aircraft design – however, while they do create lighter and stronger airplanes, a zero-emission vehicle would necessitate drastic changes in the energy used to power aircraft. For the fuel of the future, Finnair nominates three contenders that could make zero-emission planes like the 850 M a reality – solar, biofuel, and hydrogen.
The efficiency of the 850 M is also improved by the partly elastic wings, which adapt to flight speed and weather conditions. Solar panels on the exterior of the plane provide the electricity for passenger amenities, including the very futuristic-sounding 20-inch 3D display.
The description of passenger comfort is predictably Utopic, with intelligent seats monitoring pulse rate, blood pressure and body temperature, as well as giving out free massages. Once again though, the projection has seeds in present-day emerging tech, this time in the field of smart fabrics.
The 126.30m A600-850 M has a wingspan of 60.70m and seats 600-850 passengers. The maximum take-off weight is 310,000kg and the cruising speed is mach 4.5.
Another “zero-emission” aircraft, the A600-850 took its design cues from the ship from The Fantastic Voyage. Like the 850 M, it can fit 600-850 passengers, but is designed for smaller trips. The 81.70m craft has four engines, which can be turned horizontally by 26 degrees and vertically by 55 degrees. The engine configuration is key to the aircraft’s most interesting feature – vertical take off. VTOL is currently a prized feature in military craft, increasing maneoverability and decreasing the amount of space required on the ground. Finnair believes that vertical takeoff will be incorporated into the passenger plane market.
As with the previous hypothetical plane, solar panels cover the outer surface of the 850, and all materials are 100% recyclable. The maximum take-off weight is 322,000kg, the cruising speed is 890km/h, and the maximum cruising level is 13,800m.
Finnair A1700-2400 Cruiser
The flying saucer-like A1700-2400 can seat up to 2,400 passengers, who reside in self-contained cabins that include toilets, showers, and Internet connectivity. The vehicle also promises restaurants, bars, shops, conference rooms, a beauty parlor, a first aid station, gymnasiums, and hologram theatres (why not). The seven engines can, like the 850, be rotated to provide increased flight stability and vertical take-off capability.
Besides offering an entirely new approach to flight, the 2400 proposes advancements in safety. The central take-off engine bay had three smart parachutes with an automatic alarm system, which transmit location data and images to emergency centres in case of disaster. The luminescent parachutes direct the landing to the safest place, which is further cushioned by 200 large cell-structured air bags.
The 118.30m plane has a maximum take-off weight of 422,000kg, a cruising speed of 160-750km/h, and a maximum cruising level of 14,800m.
The Flying Car (of course)
What future projection would be complete without it? The three-seater, 7.60m long heli-craft has a wingspan of 8.80m and a cruising speed of 240km/h. Finnair estimates that the zero-emission vehicle will be available in the 2020s, and that its low manufacturing and running costs will allow it to saturate the market. The surface is covered with thin, elastic solar cells with 92% efficiency, and the body is created from carbon-fiber.
Finnair’s final prediction is the double-feature of a “space hotel” and the service ship that ferries passengers between it and the Earth. The space hotel is positioned 500km above the Earth’s surface, completing a full orbit once every nine hours. Tourists can enjoy restaurants, recreation areas, an auditorium, greenhouses, and the vista of space - all in zero gravity. The average stay is four days, and the hotel has 450 beds.
The shuttle service is substantially less glamorous, and is designed for high-speed operation at all levels of the atmosphere. It seats 100-140 passengers, and makes the trip to the hotel in under half an hour.
The Departure 2093 website is an interesting read, and contains some lengthy essays on zero-emission technology in addition to the descriptions of the future planes. However, as with all sci-fi scenarios that cast so far beyond the horizon of predictability, the ideas combine grains of current technology with a deceptively simple “why not” attitude.