Here's a look at some innovations from this week's Paris Air Show:
You know how you feel — and look — when you get off a trans-Atlantic flight? Exhausted, blood-shot eyes, swollen ankles. Partially that's jet-lag. But partially that's because you've effectively been up a mountain for several hours, with all that entails, including increased heart rate and shortness of breath.
Some manufacturers are working to reduce those effects — thanks to new composite materials that are more fatigue-resistant themselves. Currently, commercial jets fly at between 35,000 and 45,000 feet and pressurize their cabins to bring what your body feels down to around 8,000 feet.
But Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner, which is primarily made of composites, brings you down to 6,000 feet. Normal, aluminum-built planes could be pressurized to that level, too, but they would take more of a beating to do so and would have a shorter lifespan. If you're really rolling in it, private jets, like the new Gulfstream, will do you one better: life in the cabin is below 5,000 feet.
IT'S A TRAIN, IT'S A PLANE
Several European research institutions are working on planes with detachable fuselages — though they currently only exist in computer models, crude mock-ups and their inventors' imaginations.
The concept revolves around a wing that can fly on its own or with the fuselage — where the cabin is — attached. The Clip-Air project imagines a wing that could carry three fuselages. You might board your plane at the nearest train station. The fuselage would roll down the tracks to the airport and then attach to the wing — all while you sipped tomato juice and watched "Toy Story 3."
The Bee-Plane is only slightly less pie in the sky. Its engineers are actually taking the steps toward seeing it take off one day — though that is years, if not decades, away. The Bee-Plane has just one fuselage, but it could serve as a hospital, say, dropped off in a crisis zone and picked up weeks later.
Weighing about the same as a newborn, the tiny plane disassembles and can pack into a box. It can carry either a surveillance camera or a small payload such as medicine or blood samples. The unmanned aircraft is the first by Design Intelligence Inc. intended for civilian use.
The Norman, Okla., company's president, James Grimsley, said he thinks it could be most useful in countries with plenty of sunlight but little infrastructure. Unlike the Bee-Plane, Grimsley said this model could be put to use within a year.
TOP GUN REDUX
Russia showed off its SU-35 fighter jet internationally for the first time and the pilot for the maiden flight wasted no time with ordinary aerobatics. The plane twirled up, seemed to come to a pause in the sky, then hurtled downward with a deafening roar. At one point, it appeared to cut its engines and float gracefully backwards for a few harrowing seconds.
But Russia's two Ka-52 attack helicopters nearly upstaged the fighter with a mid-air ballet sequence as delicate as any earthbound pas de deux.
Finally, Dassault Aviation, the French fighter jet manufacturer, mounted a camera in the cockpit of its Rafale for anyone with a strong stomach and the desire for a pilots' eye view.
Rafale cockpit view: http://youtu.be/ngrqEWJ5dws