back to article Elon Musk says he's planning a 'supersonic, electric hover jetplane'

Hecamillionaire space cowboy Elon Musk has revealed new and ambitious plans for the future - among them the idea of a "supersonic electric jet" able to make hovering landings and takeoffs. The one-time PayPal luminary and founder of both upstart rocket biz SpaceX and electrocar darling Tesla Motors is also pondering plans to …

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  1. Michael H.F. Wilkinson
    Thumb Up

    Love the audacity and vision of this guy. Exciting stuff combined with a good business sense.

    1. joejack
      Mushroom

      Imagine...

      Imagine if he employed some of the same brainiacs that wrote the Paypal API. That'd be an exciting launch to watch...

  2. Miek
    Linux

    'supersonic, electric hover jetplane' -- Is it just me, or does that sound rather sexy?

    1. itzman
      FAIL

      Its just you

      To me it sounds frankly impossible. There is no way to develop enough power from any battery for more than a few seconds of supersonic flight. As a builder of electric model aeroplanes I am fully familiar with the limitations of that technology. Also if some other power source is used to generate electricity, the question as to why that power source is not directly utilised has to be asked.

      In short its just a load of fluff and bollox. It may sound sexy, but it wont work.

      But then these days not a day passes without the announcement of some new technology that ticks all the boxes in the dreamlist, but none in the list of things that include economically viable and physically possible.

      I myself have patented the idea of a green car that runs on wish fulfilment alone. And we shortly be applying for a billion pound grant to develop it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Its just you

        You need to read this book: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physics_of_the_Impossible

        Just because you think it's impossible, doesn't mean that someone else can't figure out a way to make it work.

      2. CCCP
        Facepalm

        Re: Its just you

        @itzman

        That was a seriously funny post. I have visions of itzman rocking up to Mr Musk waving about his 10'' electric R/C plane and explaining why Elon is plain wrong. And plane wrong.

        Also, you need to spend less time building said R/C planes and practice hitting the apostrophe button instead.

        Here you go: "It's just you" and "...won't work" (I know there's a second "its" error)

        And while I'm at it, "dreamlist" and "I myself" aren't really English either.

      3. Jared Hunt
        Facepalm

        Re: Its just you @ itzman

        To you and other doubters here, I would wager that the man who founded and runs Spacex, a company that that has made multiple successful spacecraft launches to low earth orbit *might* be better placed than yourselves to decide whether it will or will not work.

        Call me crazy but I think he'd have considered the enginnering challenges before going to the press.

        Let's wait for more details shall we, hmm?

        1. Anomalous Cowshed

          Re: Its just you @ itzman

          This is like saying, because someone is rich and famous (and even if they made their money on that dismal thing, paypal) they know better than someone who might be much cleverer than them. It's ridiculous prejudice.

      4. Semanticist
        Facepalm

        Re: Its just you

        I'm sure your experience with model planes gives you far more insight into cutting edge technology research than a man who owns two tech research companies and has successfully designed built and launched space rockets.

        I know exactly how you feel, too - I had an RC car when I was a kid and now I'm fully qualified to tell Lewis Hamilton how to drive. Sadly, he won't return my phone calls, the fool.

      5. solidsoup
        Facepalm

        Re: It is just you

        Nonsense. Not only is this idea feasible, but it is very sensible. You're getting hung up on the word electric. It is quite obvious, however, that it really is impossible to have a viable plug-in electric plane. Has it occurred to you to ask why would Elon mention something as stupid as that?

        If I had to venture a guess. The plane doesn't store fuel as electricity, but rather as liquid hydrogen. The 'electrical' label is there to prevent it from being shut down by the Hindenburg crowd. Liquid hydrogen is 5 times more energy dense than kerosene, so the plane would be significantly lighter. It can also achieve much higher peak power very easily, allowing for hover and supersonic. Both of those are crucial for economic viability of the craft. Airline companies aren't going to take a gamble on a new technology (especially hydrogen) unless in addition to slight fuel savings, it offers unprecedented capability.

        So, how many hydrogen fuel cell model airplanes have you built?

        1. solidsoup

          Re: It is just you

          Oh, and as to why a hydrogen fuel cell plane would be called electric - for all intents and purposes it essentially is. The turbines will be electric and hydrogen can be electrolysed wherever there's water and electricity. It's merely used for more efficient (by weight) energy storage.

        2. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Why use liquid hydrogen?

          Metal hydrides have much higher storage densities without all the hassles associated with very cold and/or high pressure hydrogen gas.

          See http://www.dalefield.com/slspartners/hydrogen_fm.html

          Myth 4 – Hydrogen has a higher energy density than gasoline or diesel

          Hydrogen has more energy per unit mass than other fuels (61,100 BTUs per pound versus 20,900 BTUs per pound of gasoline). The problem with hydrogen is that it is much less dense (pounds per gallon) than other fuels. A gallon of gasoline has a mass of 6.0 pounds, the same gallon of liquid hydrogen only has a mass of 0.567 pounds or only 9.45% of the mass of gasoline. Therefore one gallon of gasoline yields 125,400 BTUs of energy while a gallon of liquid hydrogen yields only 34,643 BTUs or 27.6% of the energy in a gallon of gasoline. The Space Shuttle uses hydrogen as a fuel, because its mass is low, and the fuel is carried in an external fuel tank that is jettisoned during lift off. Automobiles can not have external fuel tanks that are discarded, and the energy per unit volume is used to determine a fuel’s energy density in automobiles. Compressed gaseous hydrogen is even less dense than liquid hydrogen. At 5,000 psi of pressure gaseous hydrogen only has a density of 0.25 pounds per gallon or one twenty fourth the density of gasoline. Gasoline and diesel are far superior fuels to hydrogen in this regard.

          1. solidsoup

            Re: Why use liquid hydrogen?

            Granted, I should've said 'energy density to mass ratio'. We're not talking about automobiles and high-pressure gaseous hydrogen, so I think you've answered your own question as to why you would use hydrogen and even provided the example of space shuttle.

        3. Ian Johnston Silver badge
          Thumb Down

          Re: It is just you

          Liquid hydrogen does indeed have a higher specific energy than kerosene. However, when you take into account the cryogenic containment system you need, things don't look so rosy. Additionally, liquid hydrogen is about 1/10 the density of kerosene, so you need a lot more volume to store the same energy.

      6. Terry Barnes

        Re: Its just you

        People who had seen a few milkfloats in their time used to say that electric vehicles could never be fast.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Its just you

          They could easily have made milk-floats much faster, but they had glass milk bottles in those days, plus they needed to actually finish the milk round without running flat or actually making butter on the way round ;)

      7. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Its just you

        "As a builder of electric model aeroplanes I am fully familiar with the limitations of that technology"

        I respect that.

        "Elon Musk is an engineer and entrepreneur who builds and operates companies to solve environmental, social and economic challenges. He co-founded PayPal and currently drives strategy, development and design at two companies he created, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and Tesla Motors, and oversees a third company, SolarCity, which he co-founded. He led SpaceX’s efforts to be the first private company to successfully launch and dock a spacecraft with the international space station" (http://elonmusk.com/)

        And I also respect that.

    2. Miek
      Linux

      I said I thought it sounded sexy, not that it might actually work.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Dude, you need your eyes checked

        Monica Bellucci is sexy.

    3. Armando 123

      Or rather

      a bit childish. Honestly, I sometimes think adults are no longer in charge in this world, harumph, you kids with your fax machines and hula hoops and cassette tapes, etc etc etc.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I can see it now ...

    The first test of the VTVL, supersonic electric jet was going so well, till it reached 35ft and pulled the plug out

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I can see it now ...

      Come on, that's not realistic, what a terrible thing to say.

      I think instead it would run out of battery and nose-dive into the grass just beyond the final runway lights. :P

  4. This post has been deleted by its author

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Given his hsitory to date....

    .....I don't think I'd bet against his actually managing to pull it off.

  6. james 68

    oh he'll pull it off alright - but having to land and spend 12 hours recharging every 100 miles will be a pain in the ass

  7. RichD

    April 1st...

    ...seems to have come round very quickly this time...

  8. Jim McDonald
    Joke

    "It is more important to the world that we do a more affordable electric car. Hopefully, we will get to a [new] electric supercar in 4 to 5 years," Musk said.

    Super! An "electric supercar" and "more affordable" in the same quotation!

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    overarching or overcharging?

    or is there any difference?

  10. Dave 62
    Happy

    wuh?

    Just what the heck is an electric jet?

    Does he mean a plasma or ion thruster?

    Is he even aware these things actually exist.. but are only used in space because.. well that's the only place they really work..

    He should stop squandering his money on silly things like overweight 'sports' cars only capable of hatchback speeds and instead pay me to make a proper sports car.

  11. tony72
    Thumb Up

    Electric jet

    Isn't "electric jet" a bit of a contradiction in terms? Call me a nitpicker, but a jet engine to me generally involves burning fuel, and a plane described as a jet is generally powered by the aforementioned fuel-burning jet engines. Still, I like the sound of it, whatever it's called.

    1. itzman

      Re: Electric jet

      Probably a high speed turbine driven by an electric motor.

      Hugely inefficient way to fly a plane, and almost impossible to go supersonic with.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Electric jet

        RE: Thunderbirds Episode 1

        Sounds like Fireflash.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Electric jet

        It might be a variation on the 'microwaved coffee' drive - incredibly efficient, plus you can brake by using a teaspoon

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Electric jet

        +1

        weight of ..... turbine, & motor & battery(or fuelcell+tank)

        Good luck getting enough power-to-weight, and figuring out how to get your turbines to survive supersonic intake

        -OK you could try variable inlet spikes....

        My advice .. if you must do it, limited liability company, no hyping, and stay away from Moller :P

    2. stucs201

      Re: Electric jet

      > "but a jet engine to me generally involves burning fuel"

      Generally yes, but alternatives have been proposed - e.g. a nuclear reactor for project pluto (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Pluto). As a completly wild guess he could be talking about using a similar ramjet design but with a really big electric heater instead of the nuclear pile.

      1. Chemist

        Re: Electric jet

        "but with a really big electric heater "

        And the really LARGE amount of electricity ?

        1. stucs201

          Re: Electric jet

          Well yes, whether its a jet or something else this thing isn't going to be running off a couple of AAAs.

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

  12. MD Rackham

    Not just Musk

    If you do a bit of research you'll find that Boeing and Airbus have active research projects into electric commercial airliners. Use a conventional turbine running at a constant, efficient, speed to generate electricity to charge batteries. Call on the batteries for peak energy needs, i.e., when taking off.

    The supersonic part I'm a bit fuzzy on, but I'm not sure I'd bet against Musk's record.

    1. The First Dave
      Boffin

      Re: Not just Musk

      Research projects are one thing, but have Boeing and Airbus produced anything aproaching a test-bed system yet? But what do they know, compared to the man that knocked up PayPal overnight?

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Boffin

      Re: Not just Musk

      It's usually called a "more electric aircraft" and it's electricity for replacing the *hydraulic* systems on board with electric actuation, eliminating *lots* of high pressure (c 4000 psi) tubing, issues with leaks, issues with it absorbing water, aid bubbles etc.

      Front runners for the generator system are miniature un-lubricated gas turbine systems with direct coupled generators and fuel cell systems.

      No one is planning on replacing the high bypass gas turbines hanging under the wings *anytime* soon.

  13. Dave 62
    Mushroom

    Head full of fuck..

    Why are you people talking about an electric turbine as if a turbine is something that can be driven by electricity? That makes no sense at all! A turbine converts fluid flow into mechanical energy and occasionally thence into electrical energy, going the other way you do not have a turbine but a compressor or pump.

    Fuck me.

    Torn between the nuke icon or ironic use of the "degree level" icon... or the pint because it's enough to drive a man to drink.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Head full of fuck..

      Perhaps then they should be referred to as "blowers" or "super-hairdryers" ;)

  14. Tom 7

    A modern day Howard Hughes?

    a new electric underwired bra car?

  15. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Happy

    Musk has something Americans have difficulty understanding.

    It's called a "Sense of humor"

    And he's quite adept at thinking on his feet when using it. Anyone remember the question about being a Bond villain and his quip that "I don't have any collarless jackets in my wardrobe"?

    He may also be aware of the story of HH sinking a *lot* of money (for the time) into a SoA steam powered car. Logically quite reasonable (team found a way to solve most problems after a fashion) but practically completely bonkers.

    I suspect this is more of a ribbing than a serious idea and (as a graduate physicist) he'd know just how *much* energy such a machine would need.

    There is a reason why you cannot buy a high *thrust* ion drive for rockets.

    1. Armando 123

      Re: Musk has something Americans have difficulty understanding.

      "It's called a "Sense of humor""

      Right, because the nation that produced The Marx Brothers, Woody Allen, and The Simpsons obviously has no sense of humor. Hell, just look at whom we elect and tell me we have no sense of humor.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Happy

        Re: Musk has something Americans have difficulty understanding.

        The US has some excellent *professional* comics. It's just the individuals who can have a SOH bypass.

        As your reaction neatly demonstrates.

  16. irish_tech
    Happy

    Iron man 2

    Wasn't this dialogue from his cameo in Iron Man 2?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Iron man 2

      Hopefully we won't have to wait long for Elon Musk to unveil his crime-fighting super suit.

  17. Tim Worstal

    Hmm

    Had that Elon Musk on the phone once. He called me.

    "So, Tim, this scandium, should I use it in my rockets?"

    "Doing much welding of them?"

    "No"

    "No".

    "Thank you, goodbye".

    Doesn't waste time Mr. Musk, could be why he gets so much done.....

  18. ChrisInAStrangeLand

    He didn't say all-electric, he said electric. i.e

    superconductor fan <------> motor controller <------> capacitor <-------> generator.

    There are enormous efficiencies to be gained from mechanically decoupling the fan from the compressor and turbine and spinning each at the most optimal speed. The reason why it hasn't happened is because airlines and manufacturers are even more risk averse than car companies. They're even choking on geared turbofans, and they've been on the drawing boards for decades.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is what the republicans mean when they say millionaires are job creators

    He's investing his money and creating jobs (and the future) by starting SpaceX, Tesla and perhaps this VTVL electric superjet company. Unfortunately there are too many millionaires who just give their cash to hedge fund managers to speculate on currency and commodity futures, which only creates jobs for hedge fund managers.

    Too bad there aren't more of the former than the latter, then we wouldn't still be talking about how crappy this economy is.

    1. Kharkov
      Megaphone

      Re: This is what the Republicans mean when they say millionaires are job creators

      While the story of the self-made millionaire is a popular & oft-repeated one, the truth is, most of today's millionaires inherited their wealth.

      As the saying goes, making a million out of nothing, that's hard. Making two million out of one million, that's inevitable.

      When you make your first million, you're keenly aware of the people/systems/networks around you that enabled you to make that million so you're more likely to invest in those people/systems/networks etc. When you get handed your first million, you're less likely to make that investment and more likely to let it turn itself into two million while you jet around living the high life.

  20. Kharkov
    Coat

    Reality - It's where we have to go, once in a while

    Flying car? Doable, but not in the next ten years without a lot of money thrown at it and you'd still have big concerns about safety. A car going off the road at 40 to 60 mph is one thing but a car falling out of the sky at 100 to 160 mph? Even if the flying bit worked, the debate over control systems & safety would take years.

    Electric car? Doable, (in fact, it's being done) but it won't replace regular cars until the price comes down, the battery life goes up and the recharge time gets down to 10 minutes or less for a daytime top-up.

    An electric jet? I have no idea what that is. An electric propellor engine now...

    A supersonic, electric jet that can do vertical takeoffs & landings? Yeah, we'll have those just after we get unicorns to ride.

    1. Dave 62
      Angel

      Re: Reality - It's where we have to go, once in a while

      We're gonna get unicorns?

      All hail Grand Emperor Musk, his divine light shines on all.

  21. P_0

    I have to say, I really admire Elon Musk. I always like to think if I had his wealth I would probably do more or less the same (yeah, in reality I'd blow it all in Las Vegas or something).

    I wish he would invest in Reaction Engines. The Skylon seems like something SpaceX could really use/develop.

    1. Kharkov
      Devil

      Elon Musk invest in Skylon? Let's hope...

      Quote

      I wish he would invest in Reaction Engines. The Skylon seems like something SpaceX could really use/develop.

      Unquote

      I wish he WOULD. They'll need up to 10 billion dollars over the next ten years. That said, REL will never co-operate with SpaceX (an American company) because if they did, ITARS would kick in, all the REL Skylon technology would become American & REL would have to lease their own technology back from SpaceX.

      So he could buy shares and get dividends but that's about as far as it could go. REL is likely to licence construction to EADS (Airbus) or British Aerospace, keeping only the Frost Control technology & precoolers for themselves.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      According to Mark Hempsell (of Reaction Engines) US citizens (I'm fairly sure Musk is one now) risk *arrest* under the ITAR rules as they are funding a (potentially) military technology.

      And courtesy of shrub *all* space technology is viewed in that way, not just solid fuel, reentry nosecones or space nuclear engineering.

      Musk is not putting on an Orange jumpsuit anytime soon.

  22. Ian Johnston Silver badge
    FAIL

    Tesla Roadster

    A friend of mine has bought one, and plans to drive it north to visit me soon. Hmm. Let's see. Maximum range is claimed to be about 220 miles, so at motorway speeds it's probably safe to assume about 175 miles. A one-hour charge restores 80% of battery capacity, so he'll be fine if he stops for an hour every 140 miles or so. Giving an average speed of (140 miles) / (2 hours driving + 1 hour charging) = 47mph. Whoop de do. That's a hundred grand well spent.

    1. P_0

      Re: Tesla Roadster

      Yes but you can't put a price on the smug eco-grin he is now the proud owner of.

      1. Ian Johnston Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Tesla Roadster

        I just did. A hundred grand. Mind you, he's moved up from a Nissan Leaf.

    2. Dave 62
      Pint

      Re: Tesla Roadster

      Said before, will say again... you want a proper eco car which will also appeal to er.. 'motoring enthusiasts'? Gimme the moneys (all of them). To be fair the Tesla was ahead of it's time, by a little bit, wasn't it? I mean now Nissan, Ford, Renault and uh.. some other guys, offer fully electric cars. How good they are and whether they become easily and expensively bricked or burst into flame is tbc. Really Mr. Musk should contact some proper automotive engineers for umm.. joint ventures. *cough*hint*cough*

  23. James 36

    I want a flying car !!!

    drivable planes appear to have borne fruit but I want a flying car goddamit, they have been 20years away for as long as I can remember.

    Maybe Elon should buy the Moller patents and see if they are worth anything or not

  24. Dave 15

    electric jet....

    what does he mean?

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Boffin

      Re: electric jet....

      electric jet....

      what does he mean?

      "jet" like "scanner" is a word with *many* possible meanings. They refer to a *result*, not a cause.

      "Ion engines" for example, produce a jet as well, but it's not a gas turbine, which is probably what most people are talking about.

      For something more direct NASA did look at a *direct* electric thruster. This took GH2 and fed it to a 30Kw tungsten filament heating element (yes it's basically a giant light bulb element). IIRC it was part of their nuclear rocket engine work for attitude control and had a thrust of < 100lb.

      You'll need a bit more thrust to get vertical takeoff.

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