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Thursday, February 1, 2018

Travel Part 2

The science fiction novel Too Like The Lightning by Ada Palmer is set 500 years in the future here on planet Earth. The situation is much like it is now, but technology is more advanced, there are more people, and we still have high-powered political rivalries. There have been wars and disasters but the great seething mass of humanity continues to muddle along.

Airline Flights
Flying cars are now commonplace. At any moment there are something like 800 million people traveling in the air*. Most trips are short range, but crossing the oceans is not a problem and if you were to watch the traffic patterns you would see the oceans covered with the tracks of aircraft.

ATLANTIQUE of COMPAGNIE de NAVIGATION SUD-ATLANTIQUE, interior an ART DÉCO masterpiece, but exterior utterly ultra-conservative - painted by © Eugenio Errea
While we like the sea, it can still be a very dangerous place, and while we sometimes need a little peace and quiet, we also need some stimulation, which usually means interacting with other people, so while we could stop in mid-ocean for a little quiet reflection, mostly we don't. We want to get across the ocean to where there are other people doing stuff, like cooking something good to eat. Mmmm, weird food.

Elon Musk wants to use SpaceX rockets to travel anywhere on Earth

Ocean liners were our first attempt at transporting people across the ocean on an on-demand basis. Then came flying boats and now we have jet airliners. You may heard about Elon Musk's idea to use ICBM's to transport people around the world. Crazy, but I suppose it could happen, right? I mean a hundred years ago who wooda thunk a week's wages could get you across the ocean in a day? Okay, a previous incarnation of Elon Musk probably thought it.

The problem with crossing the oceans in an airplane is that it takes a long time, and while you are traveling you are confined to a relatively small space. Okay, coach is more like cruel and unusual punishment. If you've ever flown coach you know what it's like, so you have no one to blame but your own desire to be somewhere else, like Australia.

We have airplanes that go fast enough to cross the ocean quickly, but I don't think there is a single one that has the range. Plus they are gas guzzlers. No one wants to foot their fuel bill. That's why we have congress so they talk each other into allocating the funds.

There were a couple of supersonic airliners, but they aren't flying anymore. I wonder why. No, I don't.

Gulfstream G650ER
Is a flying car that could cross oceans even feasible? Well, we have business jets, and I am sure there are some that are capable of long ranges. But they are still subsonic, so ocean crossings are still going to take hours and hours and you are still confined to a cell, a plush, comfy cell, but still a cell. No thank you. I like to be able to get up and walk around every once in a while.

A super-sonic flying car would fit the bill. Some people are talking about building supersonic business jets and that may be the next step, but it's a very energy intensive kind of solution. I'm thinking a scramjet assisted Supercar might be what we want. That's going to take a while.

Photo by Erik Almås, © Dassault Systèmes
On the other hand, super-high altitude Zeppelins might do what we want. You get up high enough, like 70,000 feet, and the air gets thin enough that you should be able to push your Zeppelin along at current airliner speeds. And with something the size of a Zeppelin, you would have enough room to walk around so you could work out the kinks you acquire squoze into your comfort cell.

* right now there are about a million people in the air.

Part 1 here, and while these two parts might not seem related, this is what I was thinging about when I wrote that.

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