18 SOME OF BOEING’S BRIGHTEST LOOK AHEAD TO THE NEXT 100 YEARS Far out story by dan raley illustrations by christopher hanks 1928 Model 80 commercial transport Boeing introduces the Model 80, an 18-seat passenger plane that carries the world’s first flight attendants. One hundred years from now, a family makes vacation plans and takes the kids someplace they’ve never been before—Earth. The travelers lock up their residence on their orbiting space colony, built by Boeing, and climb aboard a hypersonic commercial airplane, also produced by Boeing, and fly off to see what those colorful oceans and sprawling continents below look like up close. Sound too far-fetched? Not to Brian Tillotson. He can see it happening. He’s the systems technology chief engineer for Boeing Research & Technology and a Senior Technical Fellow in Seattle, who dabbles on the side as a science-fiction writer. He specializes in space travel and robotics in his job. He’s someone with subject-matter knowledge and a vivid imagination. Coinciding with Boeing’s centennial celebration, Tillotson and several of his Boeing Technical Fellowship colleagues were asked to ponder the future, to envision possible advancements in their fields of expertise—some 20, 50 or even 100 years out. Collectively, they’ve come up with a world filled with airplanes that cross the oceans in a couple of hours; rotorcraft that replace the personal vehicle and commuter airplanes; interchangeable advertising on jet exteriors; airliners created entirely by 3-D printers; lasers used on unmanned aircraft for missile defense; an almost telepathic exchange of information; and a far greater robotic presence in the workplace. And, of course, planet Earth as a destination rather than a starting point. “I can actually see that as a very plausible future—that Earth will be a highly desired vacation spot,” Tillotson said. It’s a vision based on humankind’s natural spirit of adventure and its continuous desire to explore the universe, plus Boeing’s ability to create cutting-edge technology that keeps up with ever-changing times, he said. In this case: a space colony. People already are thinking about it. “Nobody’s really built one of those, but we’ve got some concept work,” Tillotson said. “It’s really how do you do the plumbing, mow the grass, and raise and educate children in an environment like that? There are a lot of details to be worked out and Boeing is the logical company to do the huge majority of that.” To make this happen, however, Boeing likely will need to create a reusable space plane for transport, one that might rely on hypersonic principles for propulsion. It could double as a commercial airliner and make Earth easier to navigate, too. Consider the following workday: A Boeing business person boards a morning flight in Los Angeles, rides two hours across the Pacific Ocean to Melbourne or Tokyo, attends a business meeting, returns to California that afternoon, and sleeps in his or her bed that night. This is Kevin Bowcutt’s vision of the future. President Ronald Reagan spoke of something similar in his State of the Union address in 1986, referencing a mythical Orient Express airplane that would ferry people halfway around the world in an hour or two. Reagan’s pronouncement inspired Bowcutt, then a young hypersonics researcher, to pursue this project. He continues to work on it. 1 This artist’s concept depicts a hypersonic aircraft for intercontinental and suborbital transportation.
Frontiers July 2016 Issue
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