Tuesday, August 30, 2005

I never thought the 21st century would turn out like this!

Today's Times reports that airlines have given up the drive for faster flight and have instead focused on fuel efficient but slower airlines. Airbus, the European aircaft manufacturer, is leading a European Commission research project on the new aircraft. It is working with more than 30 companies on the four-year project, entitled New Aircraft Concepts Research.

The new aircraft will look different to existing jets. The wings will be longer and straighter. The engines will sit on top of the fuselage rather than under the wings to reduce noise disturbance. There will be two tail-fins rather than one to prevent noise being deflected downwards. The aircraft will fly at about 430mph compared with more than 500mph flown by existing jets.

How depressing! I grew up in the 1970s and 80s believing that the rapid technological progress we took for granted would continue unabated. If man could land on the moon just 66 years after the wright brothers made their first flight, why was it unrealistic to assume that by the 21st century, cars would fly and that a flight from London to Sydney would take just an hour!

Sadly, it appears that this era is over. Here we are in 2005, still driving on roads, still travelling (in theory) at 70mph (a limit set by Labour in 1965), still flying to New York at the same speed as we did 45 years ago! It seems that as long as there was a cold war, there was competition between the East and West for technological supremacy. Now that era is gone, the bean counter has taken over and technological progress has taken a back seat.

But this isn't the whole story. It's also the fact that the establishment (at least in Europe) have become luddites. Whilst medical progress and information technology have been championed, driving and flying have become politically incorrect, and seen as a danger to the environment. It's sad that technological progress has become an "either / or" issue. Surely if we could do something as "unthinkable" as putting man on the moon, we could also, 36 years later, develop a faster plane that uses less fuel. Unfortunately, we no longer have the willpower.