Catching up on the news after a two-week vacation that was, like my last two week respite in 1975, totally disconnected from the wider world, on May 5 The New York Times reported that there are new aircraft designs in the works because “Jet Makers Avoid Risk by Redoing Old Models.”
Certainly, the realities of business weigh heavily in decisions that lead to new airplanes, but so does the state of aviation technology. Right now it seems to have reached a plateau, as piston-powered propellers had during World War II. Aviation will take the next big step when the disruptive technology, like the jet engines, appears on the horizon.
What that technology will be is anyone’s guess, and I’m sure the tech geeks might have more of a clue than I. But right now the technology that will lead to a sea change in aerospace designs and their capabilities it is not readily apparent.
So why not make proven aerial workhorses more efficient? Unlike other aspect of modern life, aviation does not easily fit into our disposable society, where new is better. If that were true, why is the DC-3 still earning its keep as the Basler Turbo Conversion BT-67?
And in current aviation technology engineers are making incremental advancements. Waiting in my Google news feed was this May 13 story from the BBC, “Pilotless Flight Trialled in UK Shared Airspace.”
While the onboard pilot made the takeoff and landing in the modified Jetstream turboprop, a remote pilot flew the modified Jetstream turboprop, with its “on-board sensors and robotics to identify and avoid hazards,” flew 500 miles in civilian airspace as instructed by the National Air Traffic Services.
“A representative of BAE Systems, one of the companies to have invested in Astraea, said: ‘The flights were part of a series of tests helping flight regulators and Nats to understand how these flights work, and what they need to do were they to go ahead and put a regulatory framework in place for the unmanned flights in manned airspace.’”
And so technology, disruptive or incremental, inexorably marches on. –Scott Spangler, Editor