Elon Musk plans for Tesla to make supersonic electric planes

Full disclosure: I want a Tesla car. I’m not yet set on the model, but I’m planning on ordering a Tesla sometime next year. So yeah, I’m a bit of a fanboy at this point but hey, at least I’m honest about it.

That’s why when I saw this article written by Mike Brown for Inverse, I got incredibly excited for the possible opportunities.

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In the article, Brown writes about how Elon Musk talked about Tesla making electric trucks, and even the possibility of electric planes that have a vertical takeoff and can reach supersonic speeds.

“The exciting thing to do would be a vertical takeoff and landing supersonic jet of some kind,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk said during a September appearance onJoe Rogan Experience, noting that he’d discussed the idea with “friends and girlfriends.”

It sounds like pie-in-the-sky thinking, but Tesla has built a reputation as a firm that can take existing vehicles and electrify them with great success. The company first released the Roadster in 2008, the first all-electric production car with a lithium-ion battery, back when electric cars were a rare oddity. It then launched the Model S sedan in 2012, the Model X sports utility vehicle in 2015, and the Model 3 entry-level car in 2017. It’s now planning the entry-level Model Y, a Semi electric truck and second-generation Roadster, all while producing around 7,000 cars per week.

There have previously only been two SSTs (supersonic transport) planes that saw commercial aviation flight. These include the Concorde and the Tupolev Tu-144. The Tupolev Tu-144 last saw civilian flight way back in 1978, while the Concorde last saw action in 2003.

Supersonic planes

My wife and I celebrated our birthdays (mine is just one day before hers) back in February by visiting Washington, DC. I highly highly recommend a trip to DC if you’re thinking about vacation spots. There is so much history to take in, so many opportunities to learn things, and so many (FREE) museums to visit! I did a short panorama of the Concorde on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, an air and space museum just a little bit outside of DC.

You can scroll through the album I made on the aSE Facebook page to check out more planes, including the actual Enola Gay (the plane that dropped one of the two atomic bombs on Japan), a Kugisho MXY7 Ohka Model 2 (one of the kamikaze drone-type missiles that a Japanese person would manually fly to its intended target), and of course, the space shuttle Discovery in their absolutely fantastic Space Hangar.

And it’s all free, thanks to the Smithsonian Institute.

Back to Musk & Tesla

A supersonic electric plane sounds like it’s completely ridiculous, but a decade ago the idea of launching an orbital-class rocket, landing it under its own power on a barge in the middle of the ocean, then flying it again was also a completely ridiculous idea.

Brown continued:

Musk has discussed his plane idea several times over the years, going back to 2009 when he mentioned the idea to George Zachary at the Charles River Ventures CEO Summit, stating that “an electric plane gets more feasible as battery energy improves,” but “I try not to think about because I have too much to think about.” His comments were captured on (somewhat grainy) video which was published by TechCrunch at the time.

While there have been great leaps made in battery technology by Tesla, the problem still remains that batteries currently aren’t powerful enough to sustain flight for long durations.

The key holdup with Musk’s idea, in his words, is that he’s waiting for battery technology to improve. A plane would require a high energy density, 400 watt-hours of energy per kilogram of plane. The battery found in a Tesla car ranks at around 250 watt-hours per kilogram. However, 400 is the bare minimum for making such a plane work, and Musk claims 500 is more ideal.

Why not flying cars?

Flying cars sound great, and cars are the thing Tesla does best. But also, have you seen people driving around recently? Can you imagine them flying their car?

Musk has actually spoken out against flying cars. In anApril 2017 TED talk, he described the anxiety about the concept of over-head vehicles, saying “did they service their hubcap? Or is it going to come off and guillotine me as they’re flying past?”

There’s also this tweet by Elon Musk:

If you love drones above your house, you’ll really love vast numbers of “cars” flying over your head that are 1000 times bigger and noisier and blow away anything that isn’t nailed down when they land

So it doesn’t look like we’ll see flying cars or supersonic electric planes in the skies anytime within the next decade or two, but the idea is extremely exciting.

But what about getting from New York to China in just about an hour? Well, Elon Musk and SpaceX might have you covered in just a few years

Written by Dan Broadbent

Science Enthusiast. Atheist. Lover of cats.




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