New ‘bullet plane’ aims to make private flights affordable

Otto Aviation says the hourly cost of flying the new Celera 500L is about six times cheaper than conventional aircraft.

​Celera 500L

Celera 500L

Otto Aviation
  • The unusual shape of Otto Aviation's Celera 500L was designed to maximize laminar flow.
  • Laminar flow is the smooth flow of air over an aircraft's wings, and optimizing laminar flow can make aircraft incredibly efficient.
  • The plane can hold up to six passengers, and is expected to hit commercial markets around 2025.

An American aviation company claims to have designed an ultra-efficient plane that could someday make the cost of private flights comparable to flying commercial.

Otto Aviation says it's completed 31 successful test flights of its new Celera 500L, a.k.a the "bullet plane." According to the company, the plane features seats for six passengers, a 4,500-nautical-mile range and a top cruise speed of 460 miles per hour. That means it could fly nonstop from New York City to Los Angeles in about the same time as a conventional private aircraft.

But most notable is the low flying cost of $328 per hour. Compare that to the $1,300 to $3,000 hourly cost you and several friends would currently pay to charter a private jet.

How is the price so low?

It's mainly because of the plane's unusual shape. The cylindrical fuselage is especially aerodynamic because it maximizes laminar flow. Laminar flow occurs when air flows smoothly over an aircraft's wings, which reduces drag and boosts fuel efficiency.

\u200bCelera 500L

Celera 500L

Otto Aviation

Otto says the Celera 500L requires about one-eighth the fuel of a conventional jet.

"The design of the Celera fuselage takes advantage of an optimum length-to-width ratio to maximize laminar flow," Otto Aviation wrote on its website, adding that the design results in a 59-percent reduction in drag compared to similarly sized aircraft. "These benefits will not scale for large jet transports and are therefore well suited for an aircraft like the Celera."

Other specs include:

  • Glide range of 125 miles at 30,000 feet, which is roughly three times better than conventional aircraft.
  • Fuel efficiency levels that are 30 percent better than FAA and ICAO target emissions standards for aircraft entering service after 2031.
  • Liquid-cooled V12 engine, twin 6-cylinder bank, capable of independent operation with mutually independent critical engine sub-systems for each bank.
\u200bCelera 500L

Celera 500L

Otto Aviation

"We believe the Celera 500L is the biggest thing to happen to both the aviation and travel industries in 50 years," William Otto Sr., the Chairman and Chief Scientist of Otto Aviation, said in a statement. "Beyond using our aircraft for passenger travel, it can also be used for cargo operations and military applications. Since the results from our prototype test flights have been so promising, we're ready to bring the Celera 500L to market."

The company hopes to deliver the Celera 500L to market around 2025, pending FAA certification. If successful, manufacturers like Otto Aviation, Transcend Air, and Airbus could usher in the era of air taxis, where people hail aircraft like they do taxis or Ubers. Paris, for example, was planning to have flying taxis in time for the 2024 Olympic Games, though it's unclear whether the pandemic will affect the project.

\u200bCelera 500L

Celera 500L

Otto Aviation

As far as how COVID-19 has affected the launch of the bullet plane?

"We didn't anticipate Covid-19," Otto told CNN. "But there are enhanced market opportunities in being able to afford to fly with only those you choose to. Being able to avoid crowded airports and lines is another big benefit. [...] In many cases, individuals and families will be able to charter the Celera 500L at prices comparable to commercial airfares, but with the convenience of private aviation."

This is what aliens would 'hear' if they flew by Earth

A Mercury-bound spacecraft's noisy flyby of our home planet.

Image source: sdecoret on Shutterstock/ESA/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • There is no sound in space, but if there was, this is what it might sound like passing by Earth.
  • A spacecraft bound for Mercury recorded data while swinging around our planet, and that data was converted into sound.
  • Yes, in space no one can hear you scream, but this is still some chill stuff.

First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.

BepiColombo

Image source: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency's BepiColombo spacecraft took off from Kourou, French Guyana on October 20, 2019, on its way to Mercury. To reduce its speed for the proper trajectory to Mercury, BepiColombo executed a "gravity-assist flyby," slinging itself around the Earth before leaving home. Over the course of its 34-minute flyby, its two data recorders captured five data sets that Italy's National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) enhanced and converted into sound waves.

Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

Learn the Netflix model of high-performing teams

Erin Meyer explains the keeper test and how it can make or break a team.

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  • Instead of the 'Rank and Yank' method once used by GE, Meyer explains how Netflix managers use the 'keeper test' to determine if employees are crucial pieces of the larger team and are worth fighting to keep.
  • "An individual performance problem is a systemic problem that impacts the entire team," she says. This is a valuable lesson that could determine whether the team fails or whether an organization advances to the next level.
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Photo by Martin Adams on Unsplash
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