Sunday, December 21, 2003
Profiles of the Future: Supersonic Travel
"Undoubtedly we will be able, within the next generation, to build 'conventional' jet transports operating at speeds of one or two thousand miles per hour."
This is interesting for entirely different reasons than the other things I have picked out. This is something that HASN'T happened (presuming, of course, that 40 years is sufficient to define a generation). It once appeared (in the 1970's) that supersonic jets would rule the skies and we'd all be traveling to Bangkok from LA in a matter of an hour or so. Yet this hasn't materialized. Why is that? Was the Concord too noisy, expensive to maintain, or had requirements for runways that made it untenable as a mode of transportation except for the very rich (I ask these questions honestly, having heard bits and pieces of this story, but not studying it at all myself)? Why have whatever these limitations were not been addressed successfully? And what does this have to tell us (if anything new) about predictions of the future?
It appears that now we are placing our hopes on short-duration long-range flight on sub-orbital aircraft. It seems that the intent of Mr. Clarke's statement may yet be fulfilled, if not in the exact method, or timeframe, he described. Is that enough to give him credit for this prediction? And what, by the way, is the purpose of making these kinds of predictions anyway (predictions of the future, that is)? Our predictions haven't been particularly accurate, and we haven't been particularly good at using these predictions for anything (as near as I can tell). Only when something is imminent do we appear to get engaged in public debate over it. Is this just so much selfish folly? So much story telling?