Good News About Flying, in Four Parts

By James Fallows

1) For those so inclined: a functioning personal jet pack, from New Zealand.

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In-flight video at the site. Place your order here. Expected cost "will be about the same as a high-end motorcycle or car," according to the FAQs. I know this routine! When rationalizing buying a small airplane to my family, I avoided referring to "dollars" and instead tried to get away with the luxury-car counting-unit too. The FAQ list also includes, What happens if the engine stops? The answer involves a parachute.

2) Courtesy of USA Today, a sane statement from a TSA official! The TSA's John Sammon, referring to possible changes in policy in light of the terrorist crash of a small airplane into the IRS office in Austin last month, said: "It may simply be a confirmation that for very small planes you're not going to see a lot of casualties." Obviously even one casualty is too many; obviously too, anti-IRS and anti-institutional violence of any sort is no joke.  But to be sustainable, a security policy must make sensible tradeoffs of risks and rewards; in a free society, it must also reflect a sensible long-term balance between security and liberty. You could entirely eliminate the risk of airplane hijackings or bombs if you didn't let anyone fly; you could entirely eliminate gun deaths if there were no guns; no risk of car bombs if there were not cars; etc. Panglossian that I am, I will take Mr. Sammon's comment as the dawn of a new age of sensible balance coming out of the TSA.

3) Courtesy of The Guardian, news that DARPA, the Pentagon's advanced-research body, is close to tests of a scheme to make jet fuel out of algae. This has obvious advantages over making jet fuel out of crude oil from petro-dictatorships. It has a less obvious advantage, which is that algae absorb about as much carbon when growing as their fuel releases when burned, for a much lower net-carbon impact. And unlike the benighted ethanol-subsidy program -- winner of a "stupidest policy ever" contest -- growing algae doesn't compete with growing crops for food. I hope this turns out to be feasible.

4) What the hell: courtesy of Crunch Gear and Sky News, let's wind up with another New Zealand candidate for "interesting" ways to fly. It's a home-built flying hovercraft.
 
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I can't embed the three-minute video, but it is worth going to the site to watch. The young woman reporter who takes a ride on this thing is lot more risk-tolerant than I have ever been, in either my reporting or my aviating life. Or perhaps more naively trusting. Either way, she ends up having an unexpectedly dangerous exciting ride.  More on the story here, including a shorter video that doesn't include the dramatic last minute. See web-only content:
http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/03/good-news-about-flying-in-four-parts/36974/

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2010/03/good-news-about-flying-in-four-parts/36974/