Farnborough Air Show

Boeing's Glimpse into the Future: Hypersonics and eVTOLs

 - July 17, 2018, 9:43 AM

It takes nine hours to fly the 4,799 miles from Seattle to London and about one hour to drive from Heathrow to Farnborough, with the latter stage representing one-ninth of the time to go less than 1 percent of the distance. That is the sort of problem that Boeing aims to solve with its new venture, Boeing Next, announced on Tuesday morning at the Farnborough Airshow.

Boeing Next’s aim is to turn what sounds like science fiction now into every day in tomorrow’s world. “Future travelers will expect an on-demand world,” said Steve Nordlund, the first head of Boeing Next.

Next is focused on driving innovation within the company toward a more integrated, more seamless travel ecosystem, whereas HorizonX, which Nordlund still also oversees, invests in outside companies. Two key areas for innovation are more efficient air traffic management and autonomous vehicles. Its other projects include a hypersonic passenger airplane concept and electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicles capable of moving cargo and people on demand.

“These vehicles are going to start flying around in the next few years,” Boeing chief technology officer Greg Hyslop said.

Turning Boeing’s vision into reality means overcoming technological and psychological challenges. A fatal car crash in March involving a self-driving car being developed by Uber highlighted many people’s unease at the thought of turning the wheel over to an artificial intelligence program. At the same time, following the crash Uber backed off but did not stop its self-driving development work.

“That’s why the first words out of our mouth are safety and reliability,” Hyslop said. While he hopes to begin trial programs in the next two to five years, huge technology problems remain to be solved. "We don’t think its unsolvable, but there is hard work to be done around that.”