Andrew Lockley – Exponential Investor (United Kingdom) –
What do you think the world record for a non-stop endurance flight is?
Go on, guess.
When my friend asked me the same question over the weekend, I thought it would be around three or four days. I was way off.
It’s 64 days, 22 hours and 19 minutes.
To be fair, there were two people on the flight, Robert Timm and John Cook, so one could sleep while the other flew. But it is still pretty amazing, isn’t it?
What’s even more amazing is this record was set in 1958, and it still stands to this day.
The flight was a charity effort for the Damon Runyon Cancer Fund. I would hope they raised a fair bit.
They managed to stay up for so long by matching speeds with a chase truck when they needed food or fuel. They then hoisted supplies up with a rope and bucket, and pumped fuel into the plane’s reserve tank.
Here’s a photo from that legendary flight:
They only decided to end the flight when the plane’s engine became so overworked it could barely climb any more after dropping to get supplies.
How did the pilots find the experience? After the flight, Cook said: “Next time I feel in the mood to fly endurance, I’m going to lock myself in our garbage can with the vacuum cleaner running. That is until my psychiatrist opens up for business in the morning.”
Their plane is now on display in the passenger terminal at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. Look out for it if you ever visit.
If you want to know more on the story, there’s a short video here.
How safe is aircraft travel, really?
With that incredible record in mind, I was reminded of another surprising statistic I read in a psychology book a few years ago.
I couldn’t find the book today, so I decided to work out the numbers for myself from widely available statistics on air travel.
So, for my second question:
If you took a flight every single day, how many days do you think it would take before you had a 1% chance of dying in an air accident?
The answer is 45 years, 7 months and 17 days.
You would have to fly every day for over 45 years to have just a 1% chance of dying in an air crash.
For the period between 2002 and 2011 there are only 0.6 deaths per million flights. And since then, those numbers have gone down. 2017 was the safest year on record.
The main reason for those deaths was pilot error, with accounts for 33% to 60% of all accidents.
So, the next logical step to making flights safer is to… remove the pilot?
Pilotless planes are coming sooner than you think
We have had “autopilot” for years. But we still have pilots. I guess that knowing a pilot is up there makes people feel safer.
It really shouldn’t, given the stats, but our brains don’t work on logic, they work on feelings.
“The intellect may seem at times to lead the will, but only as a guide leads his master. The will is the strong, blind man who carries on his shoulders the lame man who can see,” as Arthur Schopenhauer said.
Still, autopilot isn’t really designed to take care of entire flights. At least it wasn’t until recently. But all that is now changing.
As reported by Reuters last June:
Given that article was written last year, “sometime next year” now means sometime this year.
And, eager not to be left behind, Boeing’s main rival Airbus has upped the stakes in the pilotless planes business.
Why get an Uber, when you can fly instead?
Airbus sees small, electric-powered, pilotless planes taking over from taxis in the future.
And not the far future. We’re talking by 2020. Oh, and it’ll cost you no more than a regular taxi, too.
As HuffPost reported:
And it seems Airbus is right on schedule. The Vahana (which I misread for Valhalla, which would not be the best name for an aircraft…) had its first successful test flight on 31 January.
Here’s a photo:
The possibilities for a taxi like this are endless. Imagine the amazing places you’d be able to visit on an adventure holiday with one of these on hand.
Of course, I suppose by the same token, hundreds of these things flying around in the sky would then round the view.
All this innovation begs the question, will proper, big commercial airliners ever be powered by electricity?
Electric passenger jets are already in testing
The answer is a definite yes.
The E-fan X is a hybrid-electric plane developed jointly by Airbus, Rolls-Royce and Siemens.
It aims to be ready by 2020.
Here’s what The Guardian had to say about it in December:
And here’s a fun diagram of how it will all work:
How can you invest in this mammoth change to the airline industry?
Given all the above, we can see it’s not just cars and trucks that are going electric and driverless. Planes are getting in on the act, too.
What we are seeing now, is a huge shift out of one technology – combustion engines – and into another – electric.
The change, as things like this usually do, will happen much faster than most people realise. According to the industry itself, we’re less than two years away.
So, given what we know, what is the best way to invest and make money from this sea change?
That’s where Eoin Treacy comes in. In this month’s Issue of Frontier Tech Investor he has identified one small firm that will massively benefit from the coming change.
In his own words:
And the next secret supplier he’s found has even more potential than the last ones. He believes this company could go up by as much as 733% in the next three years.
Don’t just read about these huge advances. Give yourself the chance to make money from them too.
Until next time,
Editor, Exponential Investor