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The Future of Flight

Along with hopes, this scheme raises some questions. Muller addressed one of them by saying that the per-person capital and operating cost for the T-POD's would be considerably less than for current people movers, such as those at Dulles Airport. His actual words were "one-fourth as much." And he addressed another by pointing out that the system could be introduced at large airports about to undergo major renovations—LAX, O'Hare, and Atlanta's Hartsfield, for instance. "This is not pie in the sky," he says. "It is possible in five years."

Air travel is inherently futuristic, but recently we've thought its best days were past. We were wrong. Security will remain a challenge, and the more airlines succeed in addressing travelers' complaints, the more crowded the system will inevitably grow. Even so, on the 100th anniversary of flight, things are, at last, looking up again.


Total number of passengers on U.S. planes in 1926: 6,000
Total number in 1954: 35 million
Total number in 1970: 170 million
Total number in 2002: 612 million

Combined operating revenues of U.S. airlines in 1949: $771 million
Net profit: $18 million
Revenues in 1970: $9.3 billion
Net profit: $2.2 billion
Revenues in 2002: $107 billion
Net loss: $1.4 billion

From the Wright Flyer to Hooters Air

1903 The Wright brothers get things going at Kitty Hawk, remaining airborne for 12 seconds.
1925 The first in-flight movie—The Lost World, a silent film featuring author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—is shown as a PR stunt aboard a World War I bomber. Not until 1961 will movies be shown on commercial flights.
1927 Charles Lindbergh makes the first nonstop transatlantic flight and becomes a global celebrity—the pilot as daredevil adventurer.
1929 First U.S. airport hotel opens, at California's Oakland Airport.
1932 Amelia Earhart is the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. She, too, becomes a global celebrity.
1935 American Airways (the precursor to American Airlines) serves the first hot airplane meal in the United States.
1942 "Here's looking at you, kid": Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca make airport good-byes and air travel seem thrillingly romantic.
1947 Pilot Chuck Yeager breaks the sound barrier in the Bell X-1; the jet age is well under way.
1947 Howard Hughes designs the largest airplane ever—the Spruce Goose, wingspan 320 feet—which flies only once. A lesson in hubris.
1949 Northwest Airlines is the first domestic carrier to serve alcohol on board.
1953 An amusingly nearsighted Marilyn Monroe flies in style in the movie How to Marry a Millionaire.
1965 Emilio Pucci designs astronaut-inspired stewardess uniforms for Braniff Air, with bubble helmets and heavy coats.
1969 The Concorde, the first and only supersonic commercial jet, takes off for the first time.
1970 Pan Am's Boeing 747 makes its inaugural flight from New York to London, with 352 passengers on board. The era of mass air transit has arrived.
1981 American Airlines launches the first frequent-flier program. The miles begin accumulating. And accumulating.
1986 Top Gun premieres. The Navy never looked so good, and the visceral excitement of jet travel has a new poster boy: Tom Cruise.
1995 Budget carrier Southwest Airlines offers the first electronic (E) ticket.
1996 British Airways launches flat beds in first class.
1998 Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher is banned for life from Cathay Pacific after drinking excessively, assaulting the crew, and generally behaving like a rock star. The term air rage enters the lexicon.
2003 The Concorde is grounded, but Hooters Air debuts—with one plane. A niche airline, perhaps the first of many.
—Hillary Geronemus and Robert Maniaci


Peter Diamandis is the man behind the X-Prize, a contest to build the first aircraft capable of carrying passengers into space and back again. A winner is expected within six months, according to Diamandis, who believes that suborbital flights will be available to the public in the next few years. He talks with T+L about the leading edge of aviation.

Looking ahead, who do you expect will be flying in space? The next 5 to 10 years will be like the early days of aviation in the twenties and thirties, when a barnstormer would fly over the field and take people for a ride that would cost them a month's pay. And the customers would be transformed: they became aeronauts. Similarly, a suborbital ride will be geared toward adventure travelers, people looking for a brand-new experience.

Will space travel always be just for adventurers? No—there is the potential, in 10 to 20 years, of same-day passenger travel. Instead of getting on a jet airplane and flying for 14 hours, say, from New York to Tokyo, you could board a spacecraft. You'd take off and fly at 17,000 miles an hour through the vacuum of space, go over the Pacific, and reenter in an Asian spaceport—all in 45 minutes!

What sort of technology is developing? X-Prize competitors are using state-of-the-art composite materials to build vehicles that will be able to take off and land at regular airports and make flights into space. Many use jet engines for the first part of the flight, then ignite rocket engines to leave the atmosphere.

Sounds risky... It is, but it's a risk worth taking. We are opening a new frontier.
—Amy Farley


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