Kickstarting the paper planes

Here is the the Synergy plane project, via designboom. There is a Kickstarter project.

Rendering of the synergy plane

It sure looks good, and interestingly different, albeit a bit reminiscent of the commercially failed Beechcraft Starship and of what must be the nicest private plane in production today, the forever young, despite being a design more than 30 years old, Piaggio Avanti.

I am not competent to judge whether the funky shape also delivers the claimed aerodynamic advantages, but let’s suppose that form follows function and the promoters know what they’re doing on this.

What I find interesting is the economic aspects:

Designed to show ten times the fuel economy of a small jet at ten percent of the cost,

First I do doubt the claim that a mere funky shape of wing is going to change the physics so much as to change fuel economy by an order of magnitude, notwithstanding the unfair comparison with a jet — it’s a slower propeller plane.

The idea that it could also cost ten times less does not seem credible. The shape might help build a composite unibody, but composite material are not probably not cheaper to manufacture than aluminium bodies, or everybody would be doing it, and surely the price of the structure is a small component of the cost of a full aircraft, which requires the motorisation, cockpit equipment, and costly certification process so that they don’t fall out of the sky on innocent civilians, and a backing infrastructure for maintenance — why they had to stop flying Concorde.

In a less drastic way, this seems a frequent feature of even more pedestrian, pardon the pun, Kickstarter projects which are priced from DIY supplies, assuming quasi-free work by the project initiators and their mates for manufacturing, and without the productisation overhead of running a making a fully validated and regulation-compliant product, backed by a support organisation handing repairs and maintenance and allowing for a sale and marketing structure, which is never free even with internet-based methods.

Another classic naive startup sin is to try to fix too many problems at the same time:

Far greater economy, using better fuels.

OK, we’ve got some unproven wing and aerodynamic technology to sell, and let’s bundle it with some other new unproven technologies, because they sound like magic. Get your thing going with state of the art, but no better, versions of all the supporting technologies; and let, in this case, motor and fuel people innovate at their own pace. Whatever they find can easily be adopted by such a project, that doesn’t need to have multiple points of innovative failure.

As a product it may also suffer from being too low end for the bottom of the jet market (5 people, no moving space, what if we need a pee?) and too unrealistic for the really low end, which seems to cater to the old dream of the 1970s, traffic jams in the sky:

In this second century of flight, we believe that ordinary families should have fast options to travel where they want, when they want, in quiet safety, with better economy than a car. Without the exhausting airport hassle.

Yeah, right. So give all moderately wealthy dwellers of a medium size city that sort of aircraft and you don’t get air traffic control issues and jammed airports? The technology for “family airplanes” has been there for a few decades. It’s just vastly unrealistic, in any but the most remote areas, to have thousands of planes flying simultaneously, let alone the nuisance for people on the ground. Even if the technology was quasi free you would either get rationing via regulation, or else severe congestion.

It’s also something that’s way past the size something a Kickstarter campaign could sustain, though the promoters seem to be aware of that. In this case, it seems more like a charity fundraising. This project will have a chance to come reality, of one shape or other, only if they at some point associate themselves with an incumbent airplane manufacturer with the know-how to do all the work that is beyond the aerodynamics and has realistic expectations on what the market can take.

But it does look good, and $5 or $25 for a bit of dream may be fair value for money. I could even be tempted if they offered a (3D printed?) paper model, deliverable now.


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