There have been several stories in the news this week about airplanes and spacecraft. I'm an Air Force veteran myself, and I've been an Aviation Week subscriber for over 20 years, but you don't have to be in the industry to keep up with the latest in aerospace technology. Even CNET covers this kind of thing today, and some of the stories I've seen this week have gotten me thinking about buying a private jet.
I think Esther Dyson deserves a lot of credit for bridging the computer and aerospace industries. In 2005, Esther inaugurated her Flight School conference immediately following PC Forum, the computer conference she founded and ran for years (no longer, unfortunately). I was a speaker at PC Forum that year, having won a CNET-sponsored contest (I'll do anything to get a speaking gig), and I hung around afterward to cover Flight School for eWeek, resulting in a popular article.
The year before, I had a press pass to the first civilian spaceflight-- Burt Rutan's SpaceShipOne reaching over 100 kilometers above Mojave Airport. Being present for that historical flight was one of the best events of my life.
This week, CNET has run stories and photo galleries on the Paris Air Show, space tourism, USAF's Airborne Laser program, and zeppelins, of all things.
The craziest story was about EADS Astrium, a division of the giant European aerospace company. Astrium announced in Paris that it is seeking investors to help fund its entry into the space-tourism business.
The reason this is crazy is that Astrium is looking for financial assistance so that it can spend at least a billion dollars on the project. According to the plan, Astrium will end up with simple sub-orbital spaceships, basically the same capability being developed by Rutan's Scaled Composites for Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic... for a small fraction of the cost.
And EADS is six or seven times larger than Branson's Virgin Group. It seems to me that if EADS believes there's a business here, it should simply fund the project itself. Dragging in a bunch of other companies and establishing such a large budget virtually guarantees failure.
I hope some day I'll be able to take a ride on one of Rutan's ships, but it would be nice to have my own jet, too.
Aerion just announced a sleek supersonic business jet it hopes to build. At an estimated base price of $80 million with room for up to 12 passengers, the new plane is significantly more expensive but potentially much more capable than the Gulfstream G550 or Bombardier Global Express, favorites of wealthy executives the world over.
Since I hope to be one of those wealthy executives some day, the Aerion announcement is very interesting. But I think that if I could spend $80 million (plus the cost of a custom interior) on a jet, I could probably spend twice as much to get a Boeing 787 VIP "Dreamliner" from Boeing Business Jets. Then I wouldn't have to worry about picking no more than 11 friends to join me in globehopping, or even worry about finding a hotel at each stop-- the Dreamliner is big enough for plenty of first-class seating and even multiple private bedrooms.
Of course, at the moment I don't even buy first-class airplane tickets; I'm certainly in no position to buy a first-class airplane. But a man can dream...