Back in the olden days when Dennis Miller was sane and relevant, he had a catchphrase on his HBO show: "I don't want to get off on a rant here..." after which he would invariably go off on a rant. Today, Miller is a fringe nut on a fringe nut network who says things no one is interested in hearing, and no one with a mind could agree with. Why does this come to mind when the subject is Boeing's 787 "Dreamliner"? Quite simply, because (a)I intend to go off on a rant, and (b)the subject of that rant, Boeing - and to be quite frank, even its only competitor, Airbus - have offered nothing new to the world in two generations. Their planes are sardine cans designed to meet the bottom-of-the-barrel bottom lines of airlines who today view passengers the way that slave ship captains once viewed Africans - cargo to be transported at minimum cost with minimum comfort.
A diagram of the future of air transport:
I've said this before, and I'll say it again - this was Boeing's contribution to the world circa 1957, half a fucking century ago (though I can't attest to when the photo was taken):
And it was genius, there's no doubt about it. Just a decade earlier, people were flying around in propeller-driven steel cans a fraction of the size of that thing. But wait, there's more! Here's Boeing's masterful contribution to 21st century aviation, a couple of generations later - as you can see, they've continued the tradition of disruptive technological innovation:
Are you as speechless with future shock as I am? They've halved the number of engines, increased the fuel efficiency, and are using somewhat lighter materials. The future is now! We've sure left those bygone eras in the dust with this barn-burner! Oh, but wait - it doesn't even work yet. They were years behind schedule and over-budget, and yet even when they finally got around to releasing this slightly improved iteration of their genius invention from 1957, it still didn't work properly.
See, this is what happens when you substitute complexity for actual progress. It just makes things harder, not easier. That's the opposite of technological advancement. Unfortunately, the Holy Free Market - much like the Holy Roman Empire - profits from the degeneration rather than advancement of society. Don't believe me? Here's what Boeing had been working on in the lead-up to the Dreamliner, the Sonic Cruiser:
Here was another concept they were working on to give passengers more space - the 797 Blended Wing Body:
The Sonic Cruiser was to be a radical, delta-winged aircraft flying at a cruising speed just a tiny smidge beneath the speed of sound. But, see, airliners weren't interested in faster travel - even though passengers would have fucking adored shorter flights - because, once again, passengers are just cargo and speed is less important than volume. Did Boeing, this massive, multi-billion-dollar corporation, invest its own money in pursuing the concept anyway and try to offer both options? Did it attempt to use its resources to advance the state of the art regardless of the short-sightedness of the airline industry? Of course not. Instead, it made a slightly improved version of the Same Old Shit it had been selling since the Dawn of Time. And, as usually happens when you do that, said Shit just plain didn't work properly, because there's only so far you can push the same old technology.
Now, don't get me wrong, eventually the 787 will "work." It will eventually be made to transport people in sardine-can fashion to the profit-maximizing volume of the goddamn airlines. It will function, after unbelievably massive investment and delay, as the Sonic Cruiser would have at a fraction of the cost, without ever troubling the dreams of the airline executive staff who are terrified at the idea of change. But then that will pretty much be it. You cannot push the tube-plane any further than this, and airlines are too degenerate to accept anything more advanced, so something has to give. Either we enter an aviation Dark Age, or someone with money builds a goddam mass-transport jet worthy of the 21st century.
So I'd like to offer an open invitation to none other than Elon Musk to rescue us from these putzes once he's done sending people to Mars and making the internal combustion engine extinct. If anyone can do it, he can. Build us a real, state-of-the-art mass transport plane to once and for all nail the coffin shut on post-WW2 technology. I know you're busy, Mr. Musk, but keep it in mind.
Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 5:13 AM PT: I may have been in error about what the Sonic Cruiser would have looked like. The images I use are the 797 "blended wing body." They had been used in articles promoting the Sonic Cruiser at the time, so whoever used them might have been in error. A Google Image search of Sonic Cruiser shows something very different.
Sat Jan 19, 2013 at 5:20 AM PT: I've fixed the image issue, and added one that shows the Sonic Cruiser.