I'll start by saying today's article is not an opinion piece about why cars are better than planes. Because they're not. Once you've done a drive we have in Australia from Adelaide to Perth you'll understand totally what I mean. Long, arduous and boring drives totally take the fun out of driving. But two hours in a seat, normally asleep for me, means that when I get off that plane and get back into a car I've got a smile on my face. They almost work in synchronicity to be honest. One complementing the other.
What I did want to talk about today though Is just how much the two are copying, complementing and developing each other's comfort and technology nowadays. I was at the Australian International Airshow on the weekend (held in my home town, Geelong) and a close friend drove me out to Avalon airfield in the relative comfort of his Jaguar. I love comfortable cars, I mean I love fast cars. But cars like the Jaguar XJ, the BMW 7 series, the Range Rover Vogue and the Audi A8 are just sublime to sit in and be driven anywhere. I think it's one of the most relaxing and enjoyable transport experiences.
That was until upon walking through the gates of the airshow I saw the new Gulfstream G500. That thing, that business jet is absolutely gorgeous. Designed to perfection is how I'd describe the exterior. Upon entering the cabin the story only got better. Italian leather stitched in a cross hatch and a fantastic beige to white tone. This wasn't just on the seats, it was every where.
It all got me thinking though as I sat in one of the beautifully plush seats of the Gulfstream. Cars and planes really aren't too far apart anymore in comfort are they? If you compare 1 to 1 for example with any cabin class to a similar car in product level and you'd find it hard to tell the difference. I'll give you an example, if you travel cattle class on an Air Asia flight in one of their fantastic Airbus A320-200s and you end up with a leather seat, no meal, no rear entertainment and little leg space. Kind of feels similar to a mid-end Toyota Camry or a Honda Civic for example.
On the other end of the scale the cross hatched leather, entertainment, drinks on demand and meals feel much more like that of the comfort and space you'd find in a new Jaguar XJ or the Range Rover Vogue Autobiography, or the Rolls Royce Phantom. Your first class on a mid-level airline like Air Asia or Scoop is similar to a mid-end BMW 3 series or Audi Q5. And the first class on a higher end airline like Singapore Airlines or Emirates are equivalent to a Range Rover Sport or an Audi Q8 or a BMW X7.
So our flying cousins aren't all that far apart are they? I mean they even make sport models. You've got the new Lockheed Martin F35-A fighter jet looking a bit like a McLaren P1 and the aeronautics planes looking like a Subaru WRX for example. Similar both in relative price level (how much you'd have to earn to be able to buy one) and in relative speed. Then you've got a whole slather of helicopters which sort of act and feel as if their SUV's in one way or another.
Elon Musk last year said that we should expect Tesla to be manufacturing personal aircraft much alike to what we would consider a flying car (by the way, no-one ever says that a flying car is actually an impossible conundrum because if it were flying it would technically make it an aircraft) by 2021. Uber want to start consistently flying electric based aircraft ride sharing even sooner. God knows how expensive that'll be but I'm sure they'll eventually find a way to make it affordable.
So that brings up a question in my mind. Just how far away from the merge between car and aircraft really are we? It seems that aircraft companies are already preparing for the invasion of their segment with products being made by both Boeing and Airbus favoring smaller and faster aircraft over for example the now defunct A380 super aircraft. Not to mention helicopter manufacturers putting much more normal creature comfort's in their aircraft models and increasing research every year on making the whole experience much quieter and more feasible.
We never seem to talk either about the research these companies are currently making into electric aircraft technology. Boeing have been dedicating millions of dollars and many more years than any automotive manufacturer into R&D on electric light planes in the hope that the research can later be transferred into larger plane designs once perfected. They've even figured out that with an electric engine the pilot has greater control over the torque an air engine may produce.
And then there's the talk of hydrogen powered jets. I say only talk because those projects are being headed by defence contractors like General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin actually designed a full hydrogen powered aircraft for the military called the CL-400 before being told to focus on the Blackbird. Lockheed Martin still haven't divulged all information about that prototype (and probably never will). If that was harnessed though and the technology was passed on to manufacturers like Airbus or Boeing, you'd find flight would not only become quicker but the range on those aircraft would be unlimited.
Anyway, all of this talk of planes and cars makes me a bit excited (if you couldn't tell already). I'll always happily have an Aston Martin DB5 in my garage to drive on weekends. But if owning a Tesla designed light Gulfstream jump jet is going to get me to work quicker? And is easy to fly? I'm very much looking forward to the future. And so I left the airshow the other day thinking, y'know what? Automotive and aircraft aren't that different after all.