Supersonic Speeds, Comfy Seats, a QWERTY Keyboard, and a Bathroom...Welcome to The Perfect Airplane!

11:03 AM

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor

Let's say for the sake of discussion, we were all Burt Rutan for a few moments, with his unbelievably large pool of aeronautical engineering knowledge to draw upon. He is, in my opinion, our most innovative airplane designer, and when he starts thinking of new ways to make a flying machine look better, fly faster or go farther, the result is always an incredibly efficient work of flying art.

So imagine you are Rutan for the day. With a clean sheet of paper before you, what would you design if you could engineer the perfect airplane? Airplanista posed this question to our readers, and the input was astounding. Enjoy...

Airline pilot and air travel writer Patrick Smith lives near Boston, and says his perfect airplane would be nothing like the front office where he current works. "I want an airplane with better cockpit ergonomics. It's a shame that a $100 million airplane isn't half as comfortable or operator-friendly as the average new car. Some of the airliners I fly do not even have a hook to hang your headset on. And it's been how many years, and I still don't have a QWERTY keyboard to use for FMS and ACARS inputs. The tedium of typing out a long message to dispatch on a typical airplane keyboard leaves the pilot cross-eyed and brain-fried."

But when asked the same "Perfect Airplane" question, Florida pilot and aviation writer Mike Arman really put some thought into his answer, and the results are quite interesting:
"It should be quiet, because noise makes people tired, tired people make mistakes, and mistakes get people killed in airplanes," Arman said. "It should also be comfortable. Most airplane seats are ghastly - hard, lumpy, too small. The coach seats in a $50,000,000 airliner were evidently developed to the exact specifications of the Spanish Inquisition. It should have proper heat, air conditioning and window defrosting. A $12,000 Kia Rio has this, why can't all airplanes? Keeping warm by blowing air over the hot exhaust system, including oil fumes and possibly carbon monoxide into the cabin? What is this, the 1940s? It should also have four seats, room for some reasonable amount of luggage, and a BATHROOM!"
So that is Arman's opinion on the perfect airplane's cabin appointments and environmental functionality, but what about performance? He has that covered as well:
"It should run on Jet-A, because what I don't want is an engine that requires some expensive, boutique fuel like liquefied butterfly wings or even 100LL, which is under financial and environmental threat these days. Ideally, it should be electric powered. No noise, no vibration, no exhaust, no reduced performance at altitude, no highly flammable liquids to splash all over and ignite in an accident. This isn't going to happen until there is a HUGE breakthrough in battery technology, but when it does, people will look at gas powered airplanes and find a space for them in museums next to steam engines - neat, but utterly obsolete. It would be stall resistant too, because in an ideal world, we pilots are always 100% sharp and constantly at the top of our game. But in the real world, we get distracted, get preoccupied, sometimes even fall asleep, and generally screw up and make mistakes."
So why would Arman's perfect airplane need to be very stable, even if its pilot nods off? Glad you asked...
"My perfect airplane should be capable of some degree of autonomous flight for the cruise segment of a flight," he said. "I'll do the takeoffs and landings myself, but I'd really like to be able to tell it "fly to X, let me know when we get there, and keep an (electronic) eye out for traffic and weather on the way. What I'd REALLY like is for this thing to be able to take me to England nonstop from my home in Florida. If it's capable of autonomous flight in cruise, a speed of 350 knots would be quite adequate. Take off in the afternoon, get a good night's sleep in a quiet airplane with comfortable seats, and wake up the next morning perhaps an hour or so from touchdown in the U.K."
Arman's next book, due out this summer, is "The Cheapskate's Guide to Getting Your Pilot's License" and if it's anything like his response to the "Perfect Airplane" question, expect a good read with more thought put into it than was probably necessary. Maybe he is the guy who will push someone to design the "near perfect" new airplane of the future, one that even cheapskates can afford to fly.

Until that happens, let's enjoy our personal dream ships, even if some are slow, uncomfortable, smelly old school machines that burn refined dead dinosaurs and have gauges that quite possibly run on steam. Because when you ask any pilot, they will tell you without hesitation that the perfect airplane is the one they are currently flying.

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