Monday, April 23, 2012

A Final Touchdown

"A Final Touchdown"," Is this the end of our nation's aeronautics leadership - and should we care? Let's not over-dramatize. In military applications, our hardware and crew capabilities run circles around everyone else, as the Pakistanis can attest after the stealth raid that killed Osama bin Laden. We even lead in Hollywood's version of the skies. Not yet, at least. China's space program is ambitious, apparently well-funded, and mostly secret. They intend to move into their new home in space in 2020, which is the year the ISS is scheduled to close. China is also on the move in commercial aviation. The first step was the development of the Comac (for Commercial Aircraft Corp. Six prototypes have been built for testing, and commercial flights may begin late this year. (Not coincidentally, GE engines power the ARJ21. Ireland-based Ryanair signed an agreement last month to help Comac develop and launch its C919 narrow-body jet, which boasts a capacity of up to 200 passengers, by 2018. Ryanair currently flies 272 of Boeing's 737 jets, configured to carry 189 passengers each. For roughly the first two-thirds of the  we made all sorts of efforts to fly faster, farther, longer and higher than anyone else dared. So we set ourselves on a mission to get to the moon. It was expensive. Then as now (and always), there were conflicting priorities and demands for government money. President Richard Nixon authorized the shuttle program in 1971. Today, essentially the same craft that was designed in the 20th century in the early 1970s finished its final mission, still the largest and most capable human-carrying vehicle in the skies. I have watched about a half-dozen shuttles soar into the sky, mostly from a beach near our Florida home, 80 miles away. I was disappointed when clouds obscured our view of the final launch earlier this month. The current Delta, Atlas/Centaur and Titan rockets, however, are considerably smaller than the shuttle - which was considerably smaller than the Saturn V rockets that carried the Apollo missions to the moon. We rested on our laurels in civil aviation, too. It was the largest passenger plane in the skies for 37 years, before the Airbus A380 eclipsed it. Boeing's 737, 757 and 767 are also dated designs, and the 757 was discontinued in 2004. Boeing's wide-body 777 is a worthy competitor to the Airbus A340, of similar 1990s vintage. "" The company hopes to put the first one in commercial service later this year. Which gets us back to the question of whether it matters. Even after a century of flight, aviation still has room to get better: safer, faster, cheaper, quieter, more comfortable, or more fuel-efficient. We invented powered flight. The shuttle's missions are over, but I think flying - in the atmosphere or beyond it - can still take us places. TRY SOMETHING NEW JUST CLICK HERE
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