A FEW years ago Arthur C. Clarke, having flown into New York from the West Coast by sleeper plane, said to me: "When I woke up this morning it suddenly occurred to me that I belong to the only generation of men who will take a real sleeper plane. The generation before us did not fly and the generation after us will fly so fast that there won't be any time for sleep."

It was a very interesting ob­servation, which was wrong only in the respect of speaking of generations; it can all happen in the lifetime of one man. If some­body was born in 1900 he was walking around before anybody flew, except in balloons. This man might have flown in one of the early passenger planes which made it all the way from New York to Chicago in just a little over eight hours. He can now be flying in the Los Angeles-New York jet, which takes four hours and twenty minutes from lift-off in Los Angeles to touchdown on Idlewild airport And the same man won't be too old, say five or six years from now, to board the successor to the jets.

The term "successor to the jets" must not be misunderstood. It does not mean that new types of transportation will make the jets disappear. Nothing ever seems to disappear completely. Soldiers not only carry bayonets but use them occasionally, whether there are transcontinen­tal missiles or not.

THERE are two foreseeable types of devices which might be considered successors to the jets for passenger transporta­tion. One is the ramjet, now in use for the propulsion of several different missiles. The other is the passenger-carrying rocket. Since we do have winged mis­siles which use ramjets for propulsion it would seem, at first glance, that the ramjet-powered passenger liner, flying at an average of twice the speed of sound, would be closer to the present. In a manner of speaking it is, but there is a problem—which is either interesting or infuriating depending on how you look at it—in the fact that a ramjet will not work unless it is moving with a fairly high speed.

In the case of ramjet-powered missiles this is easily overcome by catapulting the missile into the air, either with a real cata­pult or else by the use of several high-power, short duration solid fuel rockets. As I said, this is being done with a missile; but when it comes to passenger carry­ing aircraft the passengers are likely to say something about this. In fact, the passenger's strongest argument would be to say nothing at all and book pas­sage with another airline.

But the takeoff is not the only problem. The landing is another one. When an airliner approaches the airport area its speed is very considerably reduced. The final approach to the runway is made at about the speed where the wings will still keep it airborne. If such a plane were ramjet-propelled the ramjets just would not play any more.

The best statement about this problem I have ever heard was gjven after a lecture at New York University, right after the war, by Air Commodore Whittle, the man who designed the first Brit­ish jet engines. When somebody from the audience asked him whether he thought the then new ramjet might ever be used for piloted aircraft (the questioner probably had military aircraft in mind) Commodore Whittle said that as an engineer he considered this an interesting problem. "But as a pilot," he continued, "I would hate to approach a runway with dead engines. This is the moment where I want to have all the power I might need—and if possible a little more."

Any ramjet-powered airliner would, therefore, need two sets of engines, adding turbojets for the take-off run and for getting the plane up to the speed it needs for the ramjets to take over. And the turbojets would be needed again for the landing.

And whenever you approach an engineer with the request of designing an airplane for two dif­ferent sets of engines he will probably lean back as if in thought. He will be in thought, as a matter of fact, but he won't think about the problem. Hell think of a way of getting rid of you, and he may also consider whether there is anybody he dis­likes enough to recommend for this job.

Even though a ramjet-powered airliner may look easier it is quite possible that a rocket-powered passenger liner is the more likely successor to today's jets. Years ago Dr. Walter Dornberger and Krafft A. Ehricke designed such an airliner—or more precisely they thought about the problem of how it could be made to work. In principle, the flight of such a rocket-powered airliner would be the same as the flight of a ballistic missile (in other words: it would not be really a "flight" in the proper meaning of the word most of the time) but with a landing at the end instead of an impact. When I mentioned this possibility at the time, the reaction of the listener usually was that he would let anybody else use this device.

But now, after successful manned orbits of the earth, the idea may slowly become more palatable.

As the diagram (Fig. 1) shows, the rocket-propelled passenger liner would be a two-stage device. Both stages would have wings and both stages would be piloted. But the wings of both stages would be used mainly for the landing. The passengers would be in the second stage.

TAKEOFF would be vertical or almost vertical, with all eight rocket motors burning (five in the first stage and three in the second stage) to produce a maxi­mum of thrust. But the three rocket motors of the second stage would not burn fuel from the tanks of the second stage during takeoff. They would take fuel from the first stage. The fuel sup­ply of the first stage would be nearly exhausted after 130 sec­onds. Then the two stages would separate. The large, but by then very light first stage would drop behind the second stage ... which keeps going, this time using its own fuel. The job of the pilot of the first stage would be to fly his stage on the momentum it has and ease it around so that it will return to the airport from which it took off. Possibly he might fly it to another conveniently locat­ed airport; but the ideal would be to return to the original air­port so that the first stage, after inspection and refueling, can be used to push another second stage into its trajectory.

The second stage would mean­while have gone into a ballistic trajectory, far flatter than the ballistic trajectories of missiles. The highest point of the flight would be around 28 miles up. It would actually be a flight in the upper stratosphere. For the sake of the passengers, one of the three rocket motors of the second stage would be kept burning at very much reduced thrust. The pur­pose is not to accelerate the ship any farther; the purpose is to spare the passengers from ex­periencing the zero-g condition, which is in itself harmless but might frighten inexperienced people. The low thrust of the rocket motor that is kept in op­eration would also help to over­come the residual air resistance which would still be encountered 28 miles up.

Each of the two stages would have some fuel left, to be used during the final approach to the runway for corrections and for an emergency pull-out in case a sudden obstruction appears on the runway.

The flying time from Los An­geles to New York would be only a few minutes more than one hour, or about one quarter of the time now needed by a turbo­jet.

The real problem here is the question "will it pay?" in all its ramifications. Will it pay for enough passengers to make a cer­tain trip in one quarter of the time it normally takes them now? In the beginning the picture will no doubt be falsified by curiosity travelers, people who don't have to make the trip but have the money to pay for the ticket and make the trip for the sole purpose of bragging about it afterwards. Now, whether it will pay for the "real" travelers to quarter the travel time will depend, in a large measure, on the price of the ticket Obviously if the ticket price is only 20 per cent higher than the jet fare, the quartering of the travel time will pay for many more people than it will if the ticket price is, say, double the jet fare.

The ticket price will depend, in turn, on the fuel consumption (and the price of the fuel) and on the number of trips a ship can make without needing a major overhaul. All these questions can­not be answered right now. The development cost of the ship itself will be influenced by how much it will differ from ships which the government will have to develop for space operations such as the job of supplying the space station or, possibly, the servicing of very large communi­cations satellites.

But passenger travel by rocket is possible.

And it will come if the finan­cial problems can economically be solved.


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