Flying is a lot less glamorous than it was in the middle of the 20th Century. But some planes are a lot geekier than the usual airliners taking to the skies.
Although taking the plane is a lot like taking the bus, only in the sky, if you know where to look there are some magnificent flying machines that jet-setting geeks will appreciate.
Western Pacific, a low-fare airline that launched in the mid-90s, painted many of their planes with logos to make them stand out. One of their most famous was a Boeing 737 emblazoned with everyone’s favorite animated (at least before “Family Guy” came along) dysfunctional family, The Simpsons. The plane was painted yellow and featured the whole gang: Bart, Homer, Lisa, Maggie and Marge. In 1998, Western Pacific went bust after some bad business decisions. As Homer would say, “D’oh!” But the Simpsons plane is still remembered as one of the most distinctive liveries ever to grace the skies.
Virgin America Cabin
Not only has Richard Branson exploring the depths of the ocean and launching his own private spacecraft, he’s also brought a touch of style back to air travel with his airlines, first with Virgin Atlantic and now with Virgin America. Geeks who catch a flight on this airline will be treated to mood lighting, games, movies, in-flight Wi-fi, and for a limited time they can even rent Chromebooks if they left their own laptops at home.
We’ve covered this one before, but Airbus recently unveiled a new concept plane for the Paris Air Show, featuring a see-through cabin made of advanced materials. Passengers can looks up at the sky through the ceiling, play golf, and even get a massage. The seats also mold themselves to the shape of the person sitting in them. If you want to book a ticket, you’ll have to wait until at least 2050.
The reason that the airlines have gotten rid of the free meals and added baggage fees is that fuel is so expensive right now it’s the only way they can stay flying. The Elektra One, however, is, as the name suggests, completely electric. It’s a single-person prototype propeller plane, but the technology could always improve to carry more passengers, and perhaps they’ll finally be able to have something edible at 35,000 feet.
Boeing Bird of Prey
This bizarre and sleek-looking plane, Boeing’s Bird of Prey, was a top-secret project that was tested in the Groom Lake testing site in Nevada, popularly mythologized as Area 51. Although it looks like something out of a science fiction movie, the plane is obviously much more earthly in origin. Boeing was able to test some ideas on this recently declassified plane, and the technology eventually ended up in some of the unmanned vehicles Boeing developed for the military.
The ZEHST, or Zero Emission Hyper Sonic Transport, a replacement for the Concorde being developed by EADS and Japan, made its debut at this year’s Paris Air Show at Le Bourget airfield. The plane takes off using turbofans, then blasts upward using rocket booster fueled by biofuel. But unlike the Concorde, whose sonic booms caused it to be restricted mostly to transatlantic crossings, the ZEHST will be no more noisy than conventional planes. The plane would be able to fly from London to Tokyo in about two and a half hours while flying at Mach 4 at over 100,000 feet off the ground. The plane will carry 50 to 100 people. The ZEHST should start flying in 2050.
Some people really believe in the DIY spirit, fixing things around the house, building their own gadgets, and now building their own airplanes. The Kitfox is a small propellor-driven two-seater built from a kit, back in production after its original manufacturer went bankrupt. If you happen to have over $17,000 and you’re good with tools and have a pilot’s license, you might want to check it out.
It seems that geeks are always looking to the skies, and these planes show how technology, creativity, and even a sense of fun make flying much more enjoyable.