Evacuated Tube Transport could take you to China in two hours

evacuated tube transport - tube networkEver look at a pneumatic tube at a bank and think, “Why couldn’t I travel like that?” A new form of high-tech transportation called Evacuated Tube Transport (ETT) could take passengers in car-sized capsules traveling through tubes so fast that you could make it from New York to Beijing in two hours. Unlike pneumatic tubes that work with air and suction, the ETT works via magnetic levitation and frictionless tubes. The ETT could travel up to 4,000 miles per hour for long trips (over twice the speed of the supersonic Concorde jet), or 370 miles per hour for shorter trips, and tubes would be routed like freeways to avoid congestion. ETT proponents claim it’s silent, cheaper than planes and faster than jets, though an extensive network of tube rails would have to be constructed to connect the network.

While the capsules may look a bit claustrophobic, the ET3 consortium claims that the transport would provide more room per passenger than airplanes or cars, and TVs could be provided to “provide distraction from negative thoughts.” Tubes would be constructed with emergency escape hatches and EMT facilities in case of emergency, and the braking system would be automatic with multiple backups (unlike the Springfield monorail).

Licenses for the ET3 concept are said to have been sold in five countries, and you can sign up for the “first 3D Virtual Ride” (coming in Q2 of 2011, oops!) on the ET3 website, but a prototype has yet to be developed. ET3 hopes that with more support, low-cost world travel could be possible in a decade. The question remains, would we still have to turn off our electronic devices for the trip?

Cockpit Chronicles: Hitching a ride to Kentucky in Concorde

Occasionally, when pilots are together, the subject eventually will come around to airplanes. Specifically, just what airplane we’d most like to fly.

While I have a rather long list that includes the Ford Tri-Motor and the Spitfire, solidly at the top of the heap lies Concorde. An airplane so special, you’re not even allowed to put ‘the’ in front of its name.

Since there was no possibility of ever flying this airplane at my airline, I knew I had to do the closest thing. Even though my wife and I were very recently hired at our respective airlines, we both agreed that we’d have to pay for a non-revenue (slang for employee reduced-rate) flight in Concorde before it was retired. This was in the mid ’90s and the one-way tickets were still a relatively steep $600 per employee.

At the time, my wife was a flight attendant for United, based in Newark. She was working in the aft galley when a gentleman came back for something. He happened to mention that he worked for British Airways at JFK as the director of Concorde charters.

My wife told him of our plans to purchase a pass on the airplane for a flight to London in the future, just for the experience.

“Don’t do that.” He said. “We have a charter flight from New York to Cincinnati in two weeks. Come along on then. No charge.”

He even extended the offer to the other flight attendants riding that day, but they all passed on the opportunity.

Two weeks later, Linda and I arrived at the Concorde lounge early enough to watch the inbound supersonic jet taxi to the gate. There was a tremendous amount of activity by the staff, with everyone even more frantic than what would be typical for agents eager to ‘turn-around’ an airplane quickly.

We soon discovered what was happening.Princess Diana was arriving on the airplane to sell some dresses for charity in New York. The Princess of Wales was escorted off the jet and down to a waiting car on the ramp, and unfortunately we never actually saw her. But soon afterward, our hero, the director of Concorde charters, came upstairs carrying a large plaque featuring the princess with a warm thank you message written on it given to him by Diana. Needless to say, he was beaming.

While waiting to board, I spotted the co-pilot in the lounge making his way to the gate. I approached him and mentioned that we’d be one of the 14 passengers that day to fly with him to Cincinnati. I explained that I was currently flying the 727 and showed him my ID, hoping that just maybe he would invite me up to the cockpit at some point.

“Let me check with the captain, maybe we can get you the jumpseat.” He said, taking my I.D. and license with him.

As we stepped on board the airplane I took a quick picture of my wife in front of the Concorde sign.

The co-pilot came back to where we were sitting and asked my wife if she would be upset if I rode in the jumpseat. I turned to her with my most buoyant look.

“No, not at all!” She said, as a flight attendant handed her a pre-departure champagne.

Concorde, just like many airplanes of the ’60s and ’70s had a cockpit where the major systems were operated by a flight engineer. At the time, I was an FE on the 727, so I was rather interested in this panel aboard Concorde.


The flight engineer panel on Concorde

The flight engineer showed me the jumpseat, but I was amazed that my perch was well behind the captain. It wouldn’t even be possible to see out the front from that far back, I thought.

As I began to sit down, the FE explained, “No, no, no. The seat slides up forward.”

Sure enough, in what had to be the most unusual cockpit seat, I found my place just behind the captain with the chair locked into place.


The cockpit jumpseat is tucked in just behind the captain seat.

We taxied out with the nose drooped down for better visibility looking forward. As we lined up on runway 31L at JFK, the co-pilot said that this was the lightest he’d ever flown the airplane.

In a scene reminiscent of the original Battlestar Galactica, we blasted down the runway and rotated far sooner than I expected.

The captain reached over and flipped a three inch switch under the glareshield that raised the nose. As the nose sealed into place, I was shocked to see just how bad the visibility was. It was like looking through two sides of a humid greenhouse. It seemed like the first pane of glass, in front of the pilots, was a full ten feet from the retracted windshield that maintained the smooth, needle like appearance of Concorde.

Jumpseating is usually just a method for pilots to get to and from work or where they needed to go. But that day, it was how I confirmed my supposition that the Concorde would be the ultimate airplane to fly.

Climbing through 10,000 feet, I couldn’t hold my enthusiasm any longer. “Guys, you don’t fly an airplane. You fly a rocket!” I gasped.

They explained that even on a lightly loaded airplane they still used ‘reheat’ or what us Yanks call ‘afterburners,’ which essentially injected fuel downstream of the turbine section of the engine for added thrust, producing a glow on the four Olympus engines that could be seen for miles.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t fly supersonic over the continental United States as sonic booms are generally considered annoying for groundlings. Still, flying at .95 Mach, or 95% of the speed of sound may have set a commercial speed record between New York and Cincinnati. (The CVG airport is actually located in northern Kentucky).

Interestingly, six years later the same airplane, G-BOAG, received special permission to fly supersonic over land to set a commercial speed record while flying from New York to Seattle on November 5th, 2003 for its last flight.

It’s fitting that today G-BOAG is now on display at the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field in Seattle, since Seattle is where I met the exchange student while I was in high school who would later become my wife who landed me this rare experience.

If you have the chance, check out the museum. It’s a must see for any aviation geek.

Special thanks to the director at British Airways who made it all happen for us. I only wish I had remembered his name.

And thanks to Ruthann O’Connor for the photos.

Cockpit Chronicles takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as an international co-pilot on the Boeing 757 and 767 based in Boston. Have any questions for Kent? Check out the Cockpit Chronicles Facebook page or follow Kent on Twitter @veryjr.

Northwest Airlines memorabilia becomes big with collectors

northwest airlinesTwo years after being absorbed by Delta, Northwest Airlines has become a hot ticket again among airline collectors. Airline museums in Minnesota and Atlanta are seeking artifacts from Northwest and all things NWA-related are selling on eBay, according to the Detroit Free Press.


“It was the airline everyone loved to hate, but you know what? People are starting to miss it,” said Bruce Kitt of the NWA History Centre in Bloomington, Minnesota. The curator of the Delta museum is seeking NWA items such as children’s airline wings that represent the “passenger experience.”

The airline once jokingly referred to as “Northworst” joins other defunct airlines such as Pan Am, TWA, and the Concorde (technically a part of still-flying Air France but a big draw for aviation enthusiasts) as brands with hotly-demanded memorabilia. “Airline collectors are a dying breed, but if you go to any shows, the strangest one I’ve ever seen is a guy in a bright yellow baseball cap that says, ‘I buy barf bags,’ ” Kitt said. “Here’s a guy who just collects motion-sickness bags, including the first ones from the 1920s.” Airplane models, brochures, and safety cards are popular items, and silverware and china (they weren’t always plastic) are often for sale at New York’s Fishs Eddy home store.


If you’re visiting Minneapolis, or just flying through MSP Airport, you can visit the NWA History Centre via light rail to Bloomington’s 34th Street Station. The Delta Air Transport Heritage Museum south of Atlanta is free to visit with special hours to view aircraft interiors.

Do you collect airline items, from current or defunct airlines? Tell us about your finds.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Ted Kerwin.

Concorde supersonic jet to find new home in London

Seven years after the final Concorde flight, one of the 11 remaining supersonic passenger jets may find a new home on London‘s South Bank, next to the London Eye. RHWL Architects, whose past projects include the British Airways headquarters and the Four Seasons Canary Wharf, are rumored to have planned a $35 million dollar double-decker display with a river boat landing underneath the plane.

The current Alpha Bravo aircraft is housed at Heathrow Airport by British Airways and not viewable by the public. Travelers can currently see a jet at the Concorde Experience in Barbados, the only Caribbean destination on the former supersonic route, as well as at these museums and airports. Earlier this year, a team of engineers began an examination of a French plane in hopes of bringing the Concorde back to the skies.

Travelers – would you pay to see the Concorde? Or better yet, fly the Concorde?

[Photo credit: Flickr user Beechwood Photography]

Rant: The world needs to return to the supersonic jetliner era

Forget warm meals, smiling flight attendants or the right to check bags for free – the one thing I miss the most in the aviation world is supersonic travel. Sure, Concorde was an insanely expensive way to travel, and the plane had its fair share of technical and environmental issues, but she stood for something very important – the realization that travel by air should be faster.

In this day and age, it is absurd that a coast to coast flight has to take seven hours. With a supersonic flight, you could get on the plane at JFK, and get off in San Francisco a little over two hours later. Or how about flying from Los Angeles to Tokyo in five hours instead of eleven?

I’d even settle for the knowledge that a supersonic plane is under development, but after Concorde was put to rest, so was the chance that we’d see anything remotely like her in the next couple of decades. Every year, an aviation startup hits the news with their plans for a supersonic jet, but their plans usually end up just that – plans. Worst of all, many of the proposed supersonic jets don’t even make it past the snazzy graphics and fake mockup image phase.

For supersonic travel to take off again, Boeing or Airbus will need to be the driving force. Sadly, Boeing stopped development of their Sonic Cruiser back in 2002 and focused their attention on the Dreamliner. So, until one of the major airplane makers gets back to work, we can only think back to the era of Concorde and the realization that we were more ahead of our time in 1969 than we are today.