The Need for Speed


Boeing’s ICON II concept.

This looks cool, but I wouldn’t get into a twist over it just yet. Remember the Sonic Cruiser? That was an actual development program (which eventually morphed into the decidedly less-sexy 787) whereas this is still just R&D. Not to say it won’t go anywhere, but don’t look for any Mach-busters in spiffy airline paint anytime soon.

A little closer to home, there are still ways to squeeze serious knots out of a piston single, and most of them are downright gorgeous. Though if you’re not into racing, there’s always this little beauty:

The Pipistrel Panthera. Now wipe the drool off your keyboard.

The limiting factor in terms of my own future enjoyment? Regulations, which equals money. Lots of it. The process for certifying a new aircraft design is so cumbersome that it easily doubles – maybe even triples – the price of a finished product and takes it well beyond the reach of normal people. Even a mundane little Cessna 172 costs well north of a quarter million dollars new. That’s like buying a Lamborghini. Does anyone really believe a design that’s more than half a century old is worth three hundred large?

< crickets chirping…>

Thought so.

Granted, production airplanes should be expected to cost more because they need to be a great deal more reliable than cars. But when the regulatory hoops push even a simple light-sport design into six-figure price tags, something is seriously out of whack.

This is why there’s been such a boom in homebuilt aircraft kits over the last 20-odd years: no doubt many builders wouldn’t have it any other way, but I’m certain a sizeable fraction are in it to get a hot plane for less money. At least the ones I know are, even though we’re still talking a fair amount of dough for a project that can easily take 5+ years. That’s a commitment I have a hard time getting my head around, and this is coming from a guy who writes novels. At least my finished products don’t have the potential to kill me if I screw them up.

Hopefully relief will be coming in the next couple of years. As one who’d dearly love to someday fly something like this, I can only hope.

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