The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Sunday, February 10, 2008

A2 Hypersonic Plane: Mach 5

A hypersonic plane, known as the A2, has been announced by Reaction Engines of Oxfordshire.

The details are quite astonishing. This plane will carry 300 passengers, up to 20,000 km, at mach 5 (a speed of 6,400 km/h). It is intended to depart from Brussels International Airport at Mach 0.9 until it is out over the North Atlantic, then it will pick up speed to Mach 5. When travelling to Australia it will apparently do so by going up over the North Pole and over the Pacific.

Not only is it fast, it is also gargantuan. The plane will be 143 metres long - twice as long as the largest existing aircraft.

The plane is the result of a project funded by the European Space Agency known as LAPCAT (Long-Term Advanced Propulsion Concepts and Technologies). The plane will not run on conventional aircraft fuel but will, instead, use liquid hydrogen. This will create a cleaner footprint, emitting only water and creating some nitrous oxide. There will be no carbon emissions. The designers believe this will make it more greenhouse friendly.

There is one potential problem, though. The plane flies so high that it actually travels within the ozone layer. It is unknown whether this could damage the ozone layer (which prevents a dangerous level of UV (ultraviolet) light from reaching the ground).

Anyone expecting beautiful views from such a high flying, borderline spaceplane is in for a disappointment: the high temperatures created by such high speed flight preclude windows. However, the designers are considering putting tv panels where the windows should be, to give an external view (even if it is secondhand).

Reaction Engines estimates that a ticket would cost about the same as a first class ticket does presently: about 3,500 pounds sterling. Flight time from Brussels to Australia would be 4 hours and 40 minutes. This opens up the bizarre prospect of daytrips to Australia from Europe. Amazing.

So, are we all soon to be enabled to fly great distances in little time and see the world shrink to the size of a lazy afternoon? Unfortunately not. I was rather disappointed to learn of the timescale before this great leap forward in aviation would occur: Reaction Engines estimate that it could be flying in about 25 years time. That's right - hypersonic flight is about a quarter of a century away - and that is if it gets funding between now and then to allow development to move ahead.

This story made me think of how slowly technology is actually changing. So many visions are scattered before us of how, in no time at all, the world is going to be such a different place. Yet, almost always their timescales are either omitted or seriously in error. Barring the internet, most of what we have today was available a quarter of a century ago - even if not in such a polished form. Relatively little is truly new. (Even the internet was present in a nascent form as an academic network).

It seems to me that 25 years is an awfully long timescale compared to an average human lifetime, for this development to be brought to market. No doubt it is the same with many other futuristic projects. It all just takes so long.

I remember reading predictions, as a child, that, by now we would have permanent colonies on the moon and holidays there would be within the grasp of many. It was all wonderfully inspiring stuff. Sadly, as anyone now knows - it was hopelessly over-optimistic. In truth, no human being has left Earth orbit in the last three decades. We haven't gone forward, in space, but in this aspect, at least, we have stepped back, from what could have been.

I would like to take a hypersonic trip from Europe to Australia one day - but that day is a long way off. By then, I will be a much older man - and perhaps not given to too much travel.

Despite what futurists tend to say, all the time, we are not on a fast forward to the future - it seems, in fact, we are going slow ahead to the future. Change is coming, yes - but nowhere near as fast as we are led to believe. At least, it seems so, from just looking at my own lifetime (which no doubt overlaps considerably with your own). You don't have to take my own lifetime as an example: just look at the A2 hypersonic plane - a full 25 years away, for the next big step in aviation. Another date should be noted to understand the significance of this: the last flight of Concorde, the first - and so far only - supersonic passenger jet, was on October 24th 2003. Thus, we will have had 30 years without supersonic (or hypersonic) passenger flight before the first A2 jets take to the air. That, to me, is one big step backwards, before our next step forwards.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and one month, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and seven months, and Tiarnan, two years exactly, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, Singapore, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 5:19 PM 


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