A Brief History of Transportation

Since humans began to travel long distances to move beyond the primitive hunter-gathering camps of our forebears we have needed to develop more and more impressive transportation technologies to increase the height of each new plateau in our evolutionary development. Early on in the history of transportation, humans primarily moved objects and supplies by hand, and while many cultures still do so today, this is the least efficient method and it is generally avoided unless there is no other choice. Humans are not good pack animals.

Compared to horses, cows, donkeys, llamas, camels, and other domesticated livestock, we are weaker and require more varied diets, than these grass eaters. The first development in the history of transportation was the domestication of these large herbivores whose muscle power we eventually adapted to become both food, tool, and weapon. The dog was by far the first animal to be domesticated, and some scientists believe Canis Lupus Familiaris to have taken its modern form as early as 30,000 BCE. While the horse is probably best known in the Western world for its uses in both war and peace, all of these animals have found uses throughout human history. The horse, however, is probably the best for reasons of diet, endurance, speed, and power. Traditionally, horse-riding peoples have tended to dominate less mobile armies throughout history. Some notable examples include the Huns in Central Europe, the Mongols in China, and the Spanish in Peru.

Many people have often noted with curiosity that Julius Caesar and George Washington employed the same transportation technology when making war. Those people have unfortunately not paid enough attention to the history of transportation. If they had, they would have noted where each of these famous generals were making war. George Washington, a man of European ancestry like Julius Caesar, fought across the Atlantic Ocean from Europe against a country whose homeland was across that very sea. Therefore, Washington’s 18th century Western civilization possessed far greater sea transportation than that of the Roman Republic, who rarely ventured out of the Mediterranean. Europe’s seagoing technology was developed in Portugal during the 16th century to deal with the subcontinent’s relative isolation, as Europe was considered a backwater compared to the more prosperous China, India, and Middle East at this time. Eventually politics in these regions shut off major sea exploration at the same time Europe was perfecting its long-distance ocean vessels, which led to Europe’s domination of the world until the mid-20th century.

This economic domination would manifest itself in the history of transportation through further innovations on land and air travel. European engineers would eventually develop the train, the car, the zeppelin, and then finally, the airplane. While none of these except perhaps the airplane could rival the qualitative shifts that were brought about through domestication and developments in sea travel, the world was still changed in incredible ways with each new innovation.

With each development in the history of technology the world has become smaller and smaller. The ability to move people and objects across the world at very high speeds is now being rivaled by lightning fast speed at which ideas can be transferred from place to place via the Internet. The possibilities are endless in this globalized world.

Very Light Jets! The Emerging Air Transport Technology

Some of the brightest entrepreneurial minds on the planet have converged to bring us a new way to get there.

These guys promise exciting new options on the terminal horizon of our future commercial air travel vacations and business trips! The hub-and-spoke system of air travel has become outdated. Flying through Atlanta to get to anywhere on the planet is routine.

National Business Aircraft Association (NBAA) Fact Book 2004 reports that 30 out of the 550 commercial airports in the U.S. account for 70% of all of our air travel. Our skies are crowded around many major airports and the air traffic control system is rapidly approaching capacity. NBAA also reports that there are 5300 available satellite airports in the U.S. Many of these underused airports could be used by small jets to relieve this situation. “Very Light Jet” air transport technology is on track to make this a reality.

Very Light Jets are identified by other names including VLJs, Microjets, and Personal Jets. Their manufacturers are scheduled to begin deliveries worldwide within the next twelve months. With manufacturers reporting advance sales of thousands of these new planes, their customers are comprised of owner/ pilots, air-taxi fleet and charter operaters, private owners, and fractional providers.

Very light jets are considered to be a new category of plane because of their smaller cabin size compared to other business jets and they weigh less than 10,000 lbs. They are also powered by a group of newly developed and smaller jet engines.

Many groups are planning to compete for a piece of this new way to travel. These entrepreneurial efforts include a team headed by Donald C. Burr, founder in 1980 of the former airline, People Express. On March 29 Burr, his son Cameron, and associates made a Securities and Exchange Commission filing for their Very Light Jet Company, POGO.

Burr says “our intent here is to bring the private-travel market down from CEO level to manager-level people.” The reported pricing plan of POGO is to provide a $3 to $4 a mile travel experience. This fare structure compares to retail first-class on most flights.

The commoditization of these Very Light Jet air-taxi seats will make this travel option available to progressively larger segments of air travelers.

The aircraft at the heart of this breakthrough technology will have one or two engines, glass cockpits, and seats for four to nine passengers. Their range will be over 1000 miles and they will fly at a speed of 340 to 380 knots and up to FL410. The turbofans that power these rockets produce 700 to 1700 pounds of thrust and weigh 200 to 300 pounds!

The VLJs will be certified and equipped to fly with a single pilot but most of the planes will likely be flown with a crew of two.

NASA’s General Aviation Propulsion Program (GAP) ran from 1996 until 2002 on a mission to deliver a selection of vastly improved performance-to-price ratio General Aviation engines.

NASA and Williams International participated in the turbine portion of the GAP cooperative agreement and developed the FJX-2 turbofan. This prototype engine weighed 85 pounds and ultimately produced over 700 pounds of thrust with a thrust-to weight ratio over 8.2, the highest in commercial turbofan history!

The FJX-2 program inspired the development of the GE/ Honda HF118, Pratt & Whitney Canada PW615F, and Williams International FJ33, which are the production engines for the Very Light Jets. There are also many military applications for these new engines beyond their use in commercial aviation.

The aircraft are in various stages of manufacture and certification. Adam Aircraft Industries, Avocet, Aviation Technology Group, Cessna, Diamond Aircraft, Eclipse, Embraer, Epic, Eviation, Excel-Jet, Honda-Jet, Maverick, Scion, Spectrum, and others are at the starting line. Which manufacturers will win the high-stakes race?

What about our future vacations and business travel? Will we be comfortable in these small Very light jets? Will our kids miss running up and down the aisles and harassing the flight attendants? Will our spouses complain about the size of the bathrooms- and will we miss those hours spent at the Atlanta Hartsfield airport?

Stay tuned!

Next Generation Transportation Technology

The big success of the Cash for Clunkers program with consumers proves that many people are eager to trade in their gas dependent cars for next generation transportation technology.

Actually, drivers have been interested for a long time, especially as they watched the price of gas zoom up. The problem was that the new cars were too expensive and not mass-produced. Finally the new cars are on the way and becoming more affordable. The next generation of transportation is here in hydrogen and electric cars.

Hydrogen Cars

Hydrogen cars use hydrogen, one of the elements that create water, to power and propel the vehicle. Technically, hydrogen is an energy carrier not an energy source. It has proven to be good as an electro-mechanical converter in fuel cells, which is one of the methods used to covert hydrogen’s chemical energy into mechanical energy, producing water and electricity. The other method is combustion, and hydrogen is used similarly like gas in traditional gas combustion engines.

Car manufacturers have created several hydrogen cars including the Ford Edge and the GM Sequel. However, it seems that some will be redirecting their efforts to advancing electric car technology. This could be caused by several factors including a prediction that hydrogen cars may not be feasible for another forty years, and also the US government announcing in May 2009 that it is cutting off funding for hydrogen vehicle development.

There are other vehicles that use hydrogen technology, including golf carts, motorcycles, wheelchairs, and bikes, and commuter vehicles like buses, trains, and planes. Probably the most famous hydrogen vehicle is the Space Shuttle, which uses it to propel into space.

Electric Cars

Electric cars were actually popular a long time ago, but by the 30’s gasoline powered cars had become cheaper and faster, and took over the market. Electric cars reappeared as consumers tired of gas prices that kept rising, and looked to electricity.

An electric car is powered with fuel cells and electric motors, which replaces the gas powered engine. The controller runs on rechargeable batteries, and it powers the electric motor. Today these batteries are in packs, but future electric cars will have ultra capacitors which store kinetic energy. These are also called spinning flywheels.

Electric cars may be more expensive at first, but owners should make that up with reduced maintenance costs. They also are more energy efficient. They have lower carbon dioxide emissions, cutting air pollution, and are almost silent, reducing noise pollution.

Many people today drive hybrid cars, which use both gas and electric power. Generally the internal engine is powered by gas, or fossil fuel, and the electric motors are used when the car is at low speeds or idling. They also use a braking technique called regenerative braking to make the car more efficient. One of the best known hybrids today is the Toyota Prius, and the Chevy Volt is scheduled to hit the market soon. With the prices coming down, coupled with governmental incentives, we should see many more electric cars on the highways in the next few years.