Technomedievalism 3

Russia detains U.S. founder of Baring Vostok private equity group:

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has detained the U.S. founder of the Baring Vostok private equity group in Moscow on suspicion of fraud, a Moscow court said on Friday, a move likely to concern foreign investors.

Michael Calvey, a U.S. national and senior partner at the fund, was detained on Thursday, a spokeswoman for Moscow’s Basmanny court said.

Calvey was not available for immediate comment. The court ordered one of the executives, Phillipe Delpal, a French national, to be held in custody.


Consensus of more informed people seems to be that this is narrowly related to a commercial dispute. He is also apparently far more prominent in finance and US-Russia business relations than I gave him credit for. I am not involved in either of those areas, so I wasn’t aware of all that.

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


  1. Who may find that they have bitten off more than I can chew.

    Are you also involved in this?

  2. Gref voiced his support, which certainly counts as suspicious, lol.

  3. Philip Owen says

    This is some Russian mafioso who wants to seize assets from B-V. The government is not going to allow a rerun of TNK if it can help it. B-V has too much going on to indulge in corruption over just one deal. This raises more questions about Russian public spending in the Far East than anything else, without particular insight.

  4. Just the fact that Bill browder is against the arrest and is trying to scare away investors should be alarming, probably means that Michael was doing something bad. I also think his narrative wont scare away investors, unless the investors were planning to do something illegal.

  5. Grandpa Barsoap says

    Bill Browder vouches for him, and says he’s a great guy. That’s all I need to know about it.

  6. Philip Owen says

    Vostochny Bank, owned by B-V bought another bank. That’s rather normal these days. 95% of Russia’s banks have been closed in forced mergers. Before they completed the deal, one of the directors in the target bank loaned himself huge amounts of money to buy mushroom farms and timber mills. Another ex director feels cheated. He stands more chance of extracting money from B-V than his former partner so he has brought fraud charges against B-V. That’s how it looks. Russia is Russia everything is back and white. The law has no idea of proportionality, so detention it is.

    Browder makes everybody in this case look like a bunch of Quakers considering a charity donation.

  7. Swarthy Greek says

    Dnitriev has also voiced support. I think that Calvey will be released soon.

  8. Where did the post by Julian Rimmer go? I didn’t have time to read it when I first saw it and when I went back it was gone. Though we haven’t spoken in many years, he’s a former colleague of mine and someone I knew quite well. I’m very curious what he has to say about Calvey.

    From what I’ve heard, the Baring Vostok group was the first to try and use their law enforcement contacts to put pressure on the opposing group in the Vostochnyi Express battle. But it turned out that their adversaries had even better connections and they were “out-krysha’d”, so to speak. So the situation is fairly complex, as these types of things tend to be. Anyway, whatever his faults, Calvey is not a scumbag like Browder.

  9. Thorfinnsson says

    OT: The Airbus A380 is dead.

    The era of the jumbo jet is drawing to a close.

  10. I deleted most of my post because my speculations turned out to be ill informed and incorrect.

  11. Sad. What I don’t understand is that some connections really do need very big planes, like London New York always has lots of full planes, and obviously the number of planes which can take off and land is quite limited. What will happen when all the 747s and A380s get scrapped? You cannot just replace a big plane with two smaller ones, because runways are usually already congested.

  12. Almost Missouri says

    I’m not sure, but I think,

    1) Some connections do need big planes, but 747s already exist. The A380 was so big that which runways/terminals it could use was already constrained.

    2) For Airbus’s 380 program to break even, they needed to sell more than they were selling. Of those planes already sold/ordered, the market consisted mainly of Emirates Airlines, perhaps because they were more able to retrofit their terminals to accommodate the superjumbo. (Good luck expanding airports in European or coastal US cities.)

    3) Emirates bought about as many 380s as the rest of the world combined, which probably gave them a lot of leverage for lower prices/free upgrades/etc., which in turn would have raised Airbus’s breakeven point even further. Then Emirates reduced their latest order, which apparently tipped the program’s prospects from difficult to hopeless.

  13. Maybe, I’m wrong, but Emirates support struck me as big man politics.

    If it made sense anywhere, it would have been China, with its ubiquitous military airspace and extremely congested and narrow commercial flight corridors, but they didn’t buy like Emirates did.

  14. 1) they are hardly producing any of those either. Perhaps as a freighter. It’s inexplicable why they didn’t develop a freighter version for the A380, when its prospects would have been probably better.

    2) European terminals were in fact retrofitted for the A380, actually, there was hardly any other way to increase capacity at already over-congested airports.

    3) yes, that’s the proximate cause.

    But my point was that eventually there’d be some demand, even for a passenger version, but especially for a freighter. It’s possible that it was a prestige project which made no sense, but then cutting the freighter version and discontinuing production might be another short-sighted decision. At least both the Ukrainians and the Russians are planning to build ever larger freighter planes, and apparently the freighter version is what makes the 747 still commercially viable at all.

  15. I flew on it a number of times on Emirates and Singapore Airlines, too, and it was often full. I didn’t notice that it was any less full than 777s on similar routes. I liked it more than other planes, because it was the most spacious on economy, even for the same airlines.

  16. The A380 lost the contract for the NATO freighter. That was the real end. It sold more than originally planned but not enough to be commercial. It needed at least British Airways (a strong Boeing supporter) to add to Emirates and Singapore Airlines. It should have been doing long distance routes out of China too. The next oil peak, if it happens, will bring them back.

  17. Thorfinnsson says

    The upcoming Boeing 777X can carry four-fifths of the passengers that an Airbus A380 can, and the existing Boeing 777s already in service can carry three-fifths. But unlike the A380, it requires no airport upgrades. Globally only about sixty airports can handle A380s, whereas almost every commercial airport can accommodate a 777. See here:

    A four-engine aircraft is inherently less fuel efficient and more maintenance-intensive than a twin-engine aircraft of comparable size (Airbus abandoned the A340 in 2011) as well.

    The A380 was conceived at a time when it was thought that airport congestion was growing intractable, which turned out not to be the case. Even Chicago O’Hare managed to add an extra runway and is now (finally) going to build a new international terminal.

    Airbus bet on the continuation of the hub-and-spoke model as the future of air travel, whereas Boeing bet on long-range point-to-point connections and abandoned its double-decker superjumbo plans.

    The entire Gulf airline industry is itself one huge bet on hub-and-spoke–known as the “superconnector” model. As more 787s and Airbus A350s enter service I have trouble seeing what the point is of connecting through Dubai is (let alone pretenders like Istanbul).

    In fact, if you look at the order book for the 777X most are also going to the Gulf. I suppose you’re right that they might also be needed on highly congested routes like London-NYC, but airports have been able to expand to use smaller planes which airlines like as they’re far more flexible and easier to fill. 737s and A320s are now flying transatlantic routes!

    As far as freight goes, most air freight is in fact carried on passenger airliners themselves in their cargo bays. Dedicated air freighters have a much smaller share. Huge freighters (such as the famous Antonov aircraft from the former USSR) are exclusively used for outsize cargo.

    Perhaps superjumbos will return in the future as more Chinese and Indians embrace international air travel. Also possible that a twin-engine jet will suffer an engine failure over the Atlantic or the Pacific and be forced to ditch, in which case politicians might force a resurrection of four-engine birds (the FAA was reluctant to certify the 767 for transatlantic service).

  18. I like big or fast (or both) planes. I resent the fact that neither the Concorde nor the A380 is commercially viable.

    Regarding hubs, they provide competition. Without them, there’s fewer potential airlines to provide the desired routes.

  19. Just watched a few Concorde videos. It was perhaps the most beautiful passenger plane ever built. Okay, I don’t consider the 777 ugly either. It actually looks better than the A380, which is actually ugly. The Boeing 747 Jumbo looks better as well. Though being big is an aesthetic quality in itself.

    I hope the new Cold War (both with Russia and China) will result in some beautiful airplane designs, including some new supersonic passenger planes and mega giga jumbo type planes. I hope I’ll be able to fly with both types.

    I didn’t have a chance to fly with the Concorde, I didn’t have money while it was still flying. At least I have flown onboard both the 747 and the A380. I liked both. The 787 was a disappointment, not much different from a 777 experience, even the big windows were a disappointment, I expected them to be bigger. I have never yet flown with an A350.

  20. Did you ever see Stratolaunch? That was an airlaunch platform supported by Paul Allen. Has a 117m wingspan. Seems to be fizzling now as a business idea, since they don’t have their own medium-sized rocket that can launch horizontally, but it’s pretty impressive looking, at least by way of scale.

    Never flew in the A380. TBH, never liked it. The idea of a plane that could ferry 1000 Africans into Europe in a single flight – more if some are pregnant – I just find too terrifying. Maybe, that just makes me a pessimist. And I should be thinking about it’s ability to send 1000 Africans back to Africa in a single flight.

    Speaking of the Concorde, I believe Mr. Karlin mentioned Dutton a while ago. He’s the guy that thinks the reason that it doesn’t exist anymore is that the UK and France have grown too dumb to fly it, let alone build a new one. Some of his other ideas are interesting, but that one seems pretty crazy. There’s still impressive stuff going on in aerospace, like commercial rocketry. Then there is Boom, which is claiming to being able to make supersonic flight affordable.

  21. Thorfinnsson says

    Passenger aircraft have been very boring looking since the Boeing 707 established the basic planform that dominates to this day:

    This design was dictated by economy. It is not the most aerodynamic design possible–something that was also true in the 1950s.

    The podded engines are not as aerodynamic as internal engines, but are much easier to install, maintain, and replace.

    The very first jet liner, Britain’s failed de Havilland Comet, buried the engines in the wing:

    The straight fuselage is less aerodynamic than a tapered one, but is more economical because most of the fuselage panels are identical.

    The last great prop driven airliners had tapered fuselages instead to maximize aerodynamic efficiency. As they derived from design studies undertaken in the 1930s, mass production efficiency was not a consideration.

    Some examples:
    Lockheed Constellation
    Bristol Brabazon

    The return of supersonic passenger aviation is likely only a matter of time now. The supersonic boom issue has been solved, and demand clearly exists.

  22. Thorfinnsson says

    The Concorde was doomed by supersonic booms (overland supersonic passenger flights have been illegal in the USA since 1973, though this is likely to end soon) and the Energy Crisis.

    Supersonic aviation is hardly some mystery that people have lost the ability to master. Britain and France (and many other countries) continue to fly, design, and manufacture supersonic military aircraft after all.

    NASA has since solved the boom issue, and while one should never say never a 1970s style oil shock doesn’t seem likely to reoccur.

    There is also far more demand today for what the Concorde offered thanks to the massive global growth of the rich.

  23. I think there’s now less need for supersonic passenger planes , than in the past.

    We now have electronic devices, inflight entertainment, sometimes WiFi. With a laptop on the plane, you don’t need to worry about waiting a few hours more for the journey (the time is very quick in our subjective, distracted perception).

    Whereas in the 1970s, people had no electronic devices, laptops and iPads, to use in the plane – so everyone would feel much more torturous slowness of the minutes passing, and so a section of passengers would be desperate to save some hours from New York to London in the Concorde.

    The very first jet liner, Britain’s failed de Havilland Comet,

    This was idiotically dangerous plane as the passenger cabin could not survive repeated pressurization and would collapse in the air after less than 1000 flights. The fixing of the windows is probably the cause, but they missed the design flaw, because they stupidly used the same plane for different pressurization tests, where one test strengthened the cabin for the other test:

  24. Explained in the section of video from 5:15 to 9:00 (watch video on 2x speed).

  25. And also explained at 5:10 on this video more clearly – Concorde was extremely fuel inefficient plane and a bit uncomfortable.

    More generally, it is a result of aerodynamics: planes fly with less drag below around 1000 kilometres per hour.

  26. Thorfinnsson says

    I think there’s now less need for supersonic passenger planes , than in the past.

    We now have electronic devices, inflight entertainment, sometimes WiFi. With a laptop on the plane, you don’t need to worry about waiting a few hours more for the journey (the time is very quick in our subjective, distracted perception).

    Whereas in the 1970s, people had no electronic devices, laptops and iPads, to use in the plane – so everyone would feel much more torturous slowness of the minutes passing, and so a section of passengers would be desperate to save some hours from New York to London in the Concorde.

    People in the 1970s had books, newspapers, magazines, puzzles, and playing cards. Those were all sold in airports (and still are today). Unlike today, you could also smoke on aircraft. Alcohol was also free in economy class, and stewardesses didn’t cut off drunk passengers.

    Here is a Pan Am (the most important 20th century airline) flight from 1958:

    Perhaps for the new generation of screen-addled mobile peasants and the double digit IQ tourists who previously could not afford air travel electronic devices are a game changer, but they are not for the sort of people who are actually in a position to pay for supersonic passenger travel.

    Airports in those days were to my knowledge uncrowded (old timers like Philip Owen feel free to chime in). Airport security screening did not exist outside of Israel at the beginning of the 1970s, and in any case was not truly onerous until after 9-11 aside from some special cases. Metropolitan areas had much less traffic as well.

    The real game changer today compared to the 1970s is lay-flat beds in first and business class. These are relatively recent.

  27. Thorfinnsson says

    Supersonic aerodynamics are counterintuitive. Drag increases dramatically in the transonic range (mach 0.8 – 1.2), then drops off sharply.

    This is one reason the Concorde was so fast. The aborted second generation of supersonic passenger aircraft (e.g. Boeing 2707) were intended to be even faster.

  28. In the epoch you write about planes all were flying faster then (arriving faster) and they advertised about their speed.

    It might look nice in the video – but I don’t think so when people were in the plane, and cannot fall asleep, and then was much more of a torture for people of that epoch who could not distract their mind with an iphone.

    There is a real change in our consciousness of time thanks to the electronic devices and inflight entertainment. Suddenly everyone is distracted and time is going much more quickly.

    I remember plane journeys as a child, and our inflight entertainment was the stewardess gave us headphones, and we could plug the headphones into the seat, to listen to some plane audio system (which has about 9 CDs you can change between).

    When there were screens, they were not behind the seat, but on the top of the ceiling, and I remember the screens were showing where our plane was instead of any films.

    In a long flight, like flying to New York, the only inflight entertainment (in economy class), was a channel of Classic music, Jazz music, Latin Music, Deana Carter and Robbie Williams.

    I remember painfully listening to the whole album of Deana Carter about 5 times while looking at the ice out of the window. Compared to nowadays when you distract yourself with electronic devices, it was torture in those times.

  29. Thorfinnsson says

    Planes were flying faster? What?

    Maybe if you were on a Vickers VC10 or Convair 880–and those were only 10% faster.

    Jet airliners have been flying at the same speed for the past sixty years. The change has been in their specific fuel consumption and noise.

    I have been flying since the 1980s, and electronic devices have not improved the flying experience for me at all. In fact they make it worse because now I have to remove my laptop from my bag in security. It might be a bomb after all, which for some reason can only be discovered if it is first removed from the bag. I hope no one informs the terrorists of this fatal security flaw.

    Meanwhile I do the same things to pass the time I’ve always done on planes. I read, and I chat with my fellow passengers.

    Perhaps I am just not pessimistic enough about humanity. Am I really surrounded by hordes of drooling mobile peasants who are easily sedated simply by staring at a 5 inch display for hours and hours on end?

  30. Should have brought a book. I actually prefer one of the gigantic classical newspapers like Die Zeit (that only come out once a week) or a weekend version of a paper. It’s 100 pages of reading material and it provides a change of topics and authors, so even if it’s a newspaper whose background ideology I no longer agree with, it’ll last the entire 10 hour flight, but you might get tired with a book after a few hours. And you’ll have a good handle on how those people see the world.

  31. According to Dutton, the accident with the Concorde was due to a stupid technician not fastening the metal that punctured the tire properly. Seems like that was only a part of its decline though.

    I’d like to see them bring back supersonic flight, if only to see how environmentalists and radical egalitarians react to it. Doesn’t really have a direct attraction to me, since I assume it is less safe.

    It is funny how the Soviets had their own version of the Concorde. I don’t think they really put the same resources into it, and it wasn’t as pleasant a ride, but still I think it is kind of cool that there was this spirit of competition and national pride, that seems to be somewhat missing today. For instance, a lot of the space nuts now seem to engage in overly international rhetoric. I can understand the idea of civilized countries working together, but if it involves Africa, then it is just diversitarianism.

  32. Planes were flying faster? What?

    They slowed down, for the fuel efficiency.

    and electronic devices have not improved the flying experience for me at all. In fact they make it worse because now I have to remove my laptop from my bag in security

    Long-haul flying, without inflight entertainment, or your own electronic devices, or view from the window? If you can read or sleep in the plane, then that’s not too bad. But otherwise, it is a torture (especially when you have an 11 hour or greater journey).

  33. Muslim Arabs should be banned from flight. It is not just the danger they pose, but the inconvenience. How much money, how many man-hours wasted both in personal and the inconvenience of going through security?

    Since they banned Christians from riding horses in their native country, I think it is very mild by comparison. Let’s no pretend they could have invented flight. They don’t even make good pilots.

  34. One thing I was wondering about America, is how American airlines became eccentric about old planes?

    American airlines like United Airlines and Delta, have the oldest fleets of major airlines internationally.

    Delta doesn’t even buy new planes:

    Another thing I notice about American Airlines and United Airlines, is how they like older stewardesses as well (I guess that’s civilized, as a sign that they view it as a serious career).

    The worse thing about American Airlines, was once they stopped me from going on the plane, because I was one of the later passengers (and they give the seat to someone else), and I had to go to a hotel, and then wake up 2am in the morning to go on one of their empty planes for the same journey. And a lot of others have had similar experiences.

  35. Well, I think the shelf-life of jets can be pretty long with the right maintenance – just look at B-52s. With modern technology all that becomes easier.

    Old stewardesses are just something you have to expect now. Sure, it would be a better experience if they were all young models, but American society is way too pozzed for that. Not to mention, it is probably more profitable for them to be where they can get drunk men to tip them.

    US seems to have less competition than Europe in flight, which is not what you would expect. Definitely a lot of room for improvement in the general experience.

  36. Thorfinnsson says

    They slowed down, for the fuel efficiency.

    Certainly no one attempts the same business strategy that Convair did anymore, but the main culprit here is that airlines have increased the official length of scheduled flights in order to artificially increase on-time performance. The article itself even makes note of this.

    If you don’t believe me watch the in flight map next time you fly–I always do. Air speed and ground speed are constantly noted.

    It should also be noted that last year a Norwegian 787 broke a nearly 60 year old record for the fastest transatlantic subsonic commercial flight:

    Long-haul flying, without inflight entertainment, or your own electronic devices, or view from the window? If you can read or sleep in the plane, then that’s not too bad. But otherwise, it is a torture (especially when you have an 11 hour or greater journey).

    If you can’t read you don’t deserve to fly.

  37. Thorfinnsson says

    The major American carriers existed in a stable oligopoly with price-fixed, regulated routes for four decades. After the airline industry was deregulated in the late ’70s the entire industry operated at a loss for decades. Understandably, their air fleets aged accordingly.

    Foreign carriers are often subsidized by their national governments and can access export credit facilities unavailable to American carriers. Back in the day Pan Am even ran full page ads in the New York Times decrying this situation.

    As for the old and unattractive stewardesses, they’re unionized. I like to joke that back in the day they hired young, hot stewardesses–and they’re all still working.

    Delta is one of the launch customers for the new Airbus A220 (ex-Bombardier C-series).

    American is in the midst of a major fleet recapitalization and placed the largest ever order ($40bn) for commercial aircraft in 2011 by a single carrier.

    The American airline industry has undergone major consolidation in this century (US Air, Continental, Northwest, and TWA all gone) and is now profitable, so fleets and personnel will get younger.

  38. Almost Missouri says

    There may be some Big Man-ism in Emirates’s patronizing of the A380. Doesn’t mean they don’t want a discount, though.

    China has the world’s largest network of fast, efficient (and subsidized) high-speed rail, which makes domestic air travel correspondingly less attractive.

  39. Almost Missouri says

    I think they did offer a freighter version, but no one bought it.

  40. The Bug(wo)man Ideology Encapsulated:

    Beyond a simple dislike of the sight of brown faces, I can’t figure out what precious “Europeanness” Murray anticipates will be lost in this world of immigrant-heavy cities. Surely people will enjoy their food, go for walks, read interesting books, pursue their favorite hobbies? Surely they’ll share these pleasures with their families and friends, as they’ve always done?

  41. Other then the NATO order, they actually had more orders than anticipated. It just wasn’t enough to start production.

  42. According to Dutton, the accident with the Concorde was due to a stupid technician not fastening the metal that punctured the tire properly.

    I didn’t think about it back then… but what was the ethnic background of the technician?

  43. There is a real change in our consciousness of time thanks to the electronic devices and inflight entertainment. Suddenly everyone is distracted and time is going much more quickly.

    I don’t know. I listen to music and read a book, or try to sleep. Other than the music, it was possible already in the 1930s. The big issue is sitting for hours. It’s very bad even in an office, but here you cannot just get up. Still worse with children, who definitely don’t want to just sit. Especially for business trips it’d be very beneficial to fly twice as fast.

  44. I hope the new Cold War (both with Russia and China) will result in some beautiful airplane designs, including some new supersonic passenger planes

    The big man himself heard your pleas and gave the order to build a supersonic passenger jet based on the Tu-160. Perhaps this should be in the “learned to love Putin again” post (sorry it’s in Russian):

  45. I remember reading somewhere that the world record for number of people on a plane was set by an El Al 747 that was emergency airlifting Ethiopians to Israel. The Ethiopians were thin, light, without luggage, and had no problem sitting in the aisles. I think they packed over 1200 people on that flight. Not only were there pregnant women, but several children were actually born on the flight itself. So your plane loads of Africans nightmare is not without merit.

    I agree with you, btw, for some reason I could never put my finger on, I don’t like the A380 and have actually organized my flights a couple of times to avoid flying on one. It’s just too big and doesn’t look or feel right, though I do appreciate it as a modern marvel of engineering.

  46. Here they compare the modernized Russian T-72B3 unfavorably to the likewise modernized Ukrainian T-64BV. Though probably the modernized T-90M is probably better still. It’s probably the best tank based on an ex-Soviet design. Or maybe the new Ukrainian T-80 or T-84 versions? The Armata probably beats them all, and slowly they are going to start to mass produce them. Here’s the blog post:

  47. The A380 is uglier than other passenger planes due to its many engines and fat body, but it’s very comfortable.

  48. The Tu-160 is slightly less beautiful than the Concorde due to its variable wing. But it’s still very beautiful. So, good news. I hope I’ll travel onboard such a plane.

  49. I thought Stratolaunch was about to fly. Or maybe its first flight was very recent? I didn’t follow it closely, but maybe I should.

    It’s strange that you mention Africans in connection with the A380. It never flew those routes, and Africans are coming utilizing many other vehicles, including all of the other types of passenger planes. So it’s strange to reject the A380 based on that.

  50. Supersonic passenger flight is an area where technology has regressed. Hopefully it’s just temporary.

  51. for-the-record says

    I didn’t have a chance to fly with the Concorde

    I did, three times in fact. The first time, when we were disembarking Henry Kissinger (who of course had to leave the plane before everyone else) nearly tripped over my Compaq “portable” computer which I had put in the aisle while I was preparing to exit.

    Inside Concorde was nothing at all special, in fact it had a bit of a “cramped” feel, exacerbated by the porthole windows.

    There was obviously no sensation of speed, only the machmeter to let you know it was really something exceptional.

  52. for-the-record says

    Planes were flying faster? What?

    In an era when everything else is accelerating, airplanes are actually flying at slower speeds than they used to…

    Specified cruising speeds for commercial airliners today range between about 480 and 510 knots, compared to 525 knots for the Boeing 707, a mainstay of 1960s jet travel. Why? “The main issue is fuel economy,” says Aeronautics and Astronautics professor Mark Drela. “Going faster eats more fuel per passenger-mile. This is especially true with the newer ‘high-bypass’ jet engines with their large-diameter front fans.”

  53. The cool thing was probably the takeoff. I always liked the acceleration of airplanes before takeoff. Of course it’s easy to get used to it and then it gets boring. But a supersonic plane would be something new, so I might turn off the music and put away my book for those few minutes.

  54. Yeah, but that’s basically the same speed. It’s true that human perception is irrational (for example I often try to explain to myself the rationality of driving faster when delayed, when in fact the saved time is marginal compared to how late I am), but for the same route a 10% different speed is barely noticeable.

  55. I am extremely skeptical about Dutton’s thesis, BTW.

    As many people have pointed out, it’s not like the “technology” has been lost. And the rate of aircraft accidents has plummeted – it is 100x safer (!) to fly today than it was in the 1970s.

    Inflation-adjusted price of LA-NY flights in the 1970s was around $1,500. Today – $200. Hot stewardesses, ample leg room, and limitless booze (I’d pass on allowing smokers, though) are great, but ultimately, I’d rather have the cost savings.

  56. Unused technology is like an unused muscle, it tends to atrophy over time. Russia used to be able to build supersonic bomber jets, and now it takes several years to restart it. (Okay: once it gets restarted, it will be better, because of advances in avionics.) The first time I read about restarting the Tu-160 program was in 2006 or 2007. It’s not easy to restart such a technology, even though most people involved in the original production are still alive. It was only 15 years when they first decided to restart it.

    Something similar is happening with the American space program. It takes a long time to restart it, even though theoretically none of the know-how is lost, they still have all the documentation and the specifications etc.

    Probably technological regression in the Roman Empire was also pretty slow, and it only started out with people stopping to build shit which they theoretically remained capable of producing, for a while.

    As to supersonic fighter jets, they are quite different from bigger airplanes. I doubt any country was building big supersonic pressurized planes for a couple of decades. Of course it’s still easy to restart it, and I have little doubt it will be restarted, but let’s not be complacent about it.

    Regarding the passenger plane based on the Tu-160, it will take a lot of extra effort for a pure prestige project. They will need to redesign the whole thing using a huge pressurized cabin. It’s going to be significantly different from the bomber.

  57. The guy that was blamed initially and then absolved was a United technician named John Taylor. Not sure, think he may have been an American. Can’t find any definite picture of him, but I think he may have been white.

    He said he was set up. I don’t think the truth comes out in cases like this. I’ve wondered a lot about the Flint water thing. Knew a guy who did a stint in water treatment. He could do logarithms in his head, and pH is really basic stuff to the job.

    But I tend to take the position that it is not only affirmative action, but its secondary effects on organizational structures, and overall political decline, that is the problem. The guy who torched a nuclear sub in Portland, so he could get off work early, was white. I really don’t think that would have happened decades ago. I reminds me of the Indian sub that sank because someone left a compartment open.

  58. Thorfinnsson says

    Aerion’s supersonic business jet program seems to be actually serious, whereas these things are usually vaporware. Boeing has invested in the corporation, and General Electric has already produced engines specifically intended for supersonic business jets.

    It’s not as impressive as the Concorde or Tu-144 unfortunately. It’s a small business jet, and it can’t even reach Mach 2. But you do need to start somewhere, and a small business jet seems logical given the regulatory uncertainty.

    Presently Aerion states they expect their jet to enter service in 2025. Allowing for the usual delays in such programs (already delayed from 2023), perhaps we’ll see it by 2030.

    For actual commercial service, a useful product would be a single aisle aircraft with 150 – 300 seats and an 8,000 mile range and speed of at least Mach 2. Ideally, Mach 3. Anything much beyond Mach 3 requires exotic engines and materials and thus is unrealistic until mid-century. Sustained Mach 3 flight has been technologically possible since the 1960s, and today the materials required for such are much more affordable than they were then. Titanium is now mass produced, and ceramics are widespread and well understood.

    Useful routes would be connecting the global cities of the North Atlantic (London, Paris, NYC, SF, etc.) to those of East Asia (Tokyo, Shanghai, Singapore, etc.).

    The classic transatlantic routes of the Concorde are less attractive frankly. NYC to London is usually less than six hours–not too bad.

    If the West does not pursue this, it could be done by Russia & China. Moscow – Beijing might not be a commercially viable route for such an aircraft at this time (Karlin–thoughts?) but it’s certainly politically viable.

    While I reiterate that sonic booms are a solved technological problem, regulators can be further assuaged by pursuing a trisonic design which flies at 80,000 feet instead of a bisonic design flying at 60,000 feet. Another four miles of altitude makes a psychological difference, and no doubt passengers would be thrilled by the views at the edge of space. The aircraft would look something like the XB-70 Valkyrie. New York to Tokyo would be a 3-4 hour flight.

    Other than the obvious financial risk involved, the greatest threat to resurrected supersonic passenger aviation is Gaia-worshipping primitivists who want us to ride bicycles and eat insects. These people need to be sent to concentration camps.

    It’s true that technological capabilities not exercised do deteriorate, but the aerospace industry never stopped producing supersonic aircraft. The main change here is that it takes much longer now to create new hardware for various reasons. This isn’t specific to aerospace and doesn’t reflect technological atrophy either. Increased cultural caution is the culprit. If motorcycles were invented today, they would not be legal on public roads.

  59. Correction: meant to type Portsmouth, not Portland.

  60. Thorfinnsson says

    As to supersonic fighter jets, they are quite different from bigger airplanes. I doubt any country was building big supersonic pressurized planes for a couple of decades. Of course it’s still easy to restart it, and I have little doubt it will be restarted, but let’s not be complacent about it.

    The big difference is in the engines. Nothing else is particularly different at all, especially since with modern computing technology a lot of things can be modeled which saves on very expensive time in very large wind tunnels. Increased size doesn’t change aerodynamics, materials, pressurization, etc.

    Fortunately both the USA and Russia have very large supersonic engines in continuous production dating from the the 1980s, and for that matter some of the more modern engines for large fighters are suitable as well (e.g. the P&W F119 engine of the F-22 has been proposed as an upgrade for the B-1B). Though I don’t know to what degree these engines were intended for continuous supersonic flight as opposed to supersonic dash. I’m not an expert on the topic, but I believe for continuous supersonic flight turbojets are favored over low bypass turbofans.

    Europe on the other hand would in effect be starting over on such engines, though Rolls Royce did partner with General Electric to design the canceled F136 for the F-35.

    Granted, it’s not ideal to use engines of this size since you’d need four or more of them. Ideally you’d develop very large high bypass turbofans like the Rolls Royce Trent and GE Gen9x into low bypass afterburning fans so you could only have two. And that would take a lot longer.

    Regarding the passenger plane based on the Tu-160, it will take a lot of extra effort for a pure prestige project. They will need to redesign the whole thing using a huge pressurized cabin. It’s going to be significantly different from the bomber.

    If Russia wanted to spend the money on this it could presumably produce a Presidential aircraft by putting a pressurized cylinder for a small number of passengers where the bomb bay is now. It would be commercially useless of course. As a starting point for a commercial transport the Tu-160 makes no sense.

    A variable sweep design is of course attractive for its low speed handling characteristics, but this also increases mass and maintenance complexity. The Boeing 2707 was originally intended to be a variable sweep design, but they were forced to abandon this for reasons of weight. Whether or not it is today feasible I don’t know. The 2707 was also a very large aircraft, which is probably not the right starting point for a new supersonic passenger jet (as mentioned in the previous post I think 150-200 seats is ideal).

  61. Stratolaunch says it will eventually launch two Pegasus rockets. They stopped development of their own, after some time ago seeking others to build a rocket for them. Pegasus is not cost competitive, and can already fly from other platforms.

    The “Windrush” was originally a German cruise ship. Then a troop transport ship for Hitler. The earliest version on paper had been designed to ferry German immigrants to South America. The best ships were always built for London to NYC, then repurposed for other routes, such as the Med, when they got older.

    No doubt in my mind that some want to maximize the number of Africans brought in, and flight probably is the number one vector for demographic change. They’d do it with a supersonic A380, or suborbital rockets, if they had them, and could afford it.

  62. Thorfinnsson says

    Emirates is run by British expats. A380 selection is dictated by the superconnector business model and Emirates’ super-premium brand identity. Take a look at the new A380 first-class product they unveiled for their Dubai-Vienna route.

    Outside of the Gulf carriers first class is now disappearing since there’s no longer any point to it now that business class offers lie flat seats. I’ve been upgraded from business to first a few times, and the difference is trivial.

    Should also be pointed out that Airbus’ sales force is also dominated by Englishmen, so there was perhaps some back scratching.

    China may have the world’s best high speed rail network, but it’s also a vast continental-sized country with rapidly growing personal income. China is set to overtake the USA as the world’s largest aviation market very soon, and both Boeing and Airbus estimate China will need 7,000 airliners in the next few decades.

  63. Thorfinnsson says

    The A380 was designed for passenger travel from the outset. Redesigning a passenger jet for dedicated freight requires substantial changes to the fuselage as the entire nose must open.

    In the distant past airliners were derivatives of military bombers and transports, but that hasn’t been the case since the jet age arrived. The Boeing 747 is a notable exception as it was originally designed for freight (Boeing lost the contract to Lockheed).

    The A380F didn’t offer compelling advantages over the 747-8F, which is probably why Airbus didn’t design a freight model from the start:

    tldr is that the A380F offered only 10% improvements over the 747-8F but required airport modifications. Unlike the 747-8F, it also didn’t exist.

    Not a very attractive commercial proposition, hence it went nowhere.

    An interesting question is whether or not the A380 airport upgrades are enough to handle an even larger aircraft. If so, in theory there’s a case for producing a dedicated freighter aircraft in the AN-225 size range especially now that 747 production is ending. With modern engines such an aircraft could carry double the payload of an A380.

    Based on this picture–maybe?

    If dedicated for freight, you could perhaps use straight wings (with folding wing tips) to get shorter takeoff and landing runs, increased payload, and reduced fuel consumption. The tradeoff would be losing 100mph of speed, which doesn’t seem like a problem for freight.

  64. It’s true that technological capabilities not exercised do deteriorate, but the aerospace industry never stopped producing supersonic aircraft. The main change here is that it takes much longer now to create new hardware for various reasons. This isn’t specific to aerospace and doesn’t reflect technological atrophy either. Increased cultural caution is the culprit.

    But the Russians found it difficult to restart the production of the Tu-160, an already existing design which is still in service. It’s not like there could be any safety concerns or other cultural or regulations issues.

    Even the Americans are questionable with the new space rockets, why they couldn’t produce it since 2014, when they decided that Russia was a horrible enemy. Though the new regulations and extreme risk aversion at least seem plausible explanations there.

  65. Interesting.

    I think that once Airbus made the jump to the A380, they perhaps should have made the other jump to start the freighter. The risk would’ve been less than double, while the potential profits would’ve been double. But probably the whole idea was wrong, so shouldn’t have started either. (Thank you, Captain Hindsight!)

    I heard that the Ukrainians and the Russians are working on the An-124 (the Russians maybe on a replacement, because the Ukrainians seem to be holding the rights to the Antonov design). The Mriya would be more interesting to me, since I’m a certified gigantomaniac.

  66. Thorfinnsson says

    Manufacturing is particularly suspect to the dynamics you describe. I started my career in electronic assembly and test for instance. If I were to return to that it would take me some time to get back up to speed. And this is very basic stuff not involving advanced tools and skills.

    If you look at the Tu-160, they were restarting production after a two decade (or something) lag. And this in a country which lost half its territory and maybe a third of its human capital. In those 20 years many workers retired, emigrated, or died.

    You can also look at the World Wars and the industrial struggles various combatants faced. Britain and France went into WW1 without much of a chemicals industry and had to create one from scratch–suffering the “shell crisis” as a result. Germany had to repurpose its chemicals industry from fertilizer & dyes to explosives and as a result the Central Powers faced famine. Even the USA had to create tin and synthetic rubber industries from scratch in WW2.

    But with a new supersonic passenger jet you wouldn’t be “restarting” anything. It would be a clean sheet design. No doubt this will take longer than evolving from a previous design following the Concorde, but it’s still a new aircraft with a new supply chain. Look at the challenges of getting the Boeing 787 into production with its many newish (to commercial aircraft) technologies.

    There are also a lot of advantages today that didn’t exist in the 1960s. I’ve already mentioned computers and mass produced titanium, but there are more.

    While the Concorde pioneered fly-by-wire, it still had a very specialized, complex hydraulic system for its controls. Building a hydraulic system for sustained supersonic flight is quite difficult. Today you would use a high voltage DC system and electric motors instead, which is far simpler.

    The entire electrical system is far easier to build today. MOSFETs and IGBTs did not exist in the 1980s. Today high-energy power semiconductors are ubiquitous and cheap.

    The Concorde also had its famous drooping nose for visibility on takeoff and landing. Obviously unnecessary with modern high definition cameras and video screens.

    As far as rockets go, Space X now claims to have surpassed the performance of the RD-180.

  67. /Users/frantaubman/Desktop/British_Mandate_for_Palestine_1921.png

  68. Thorfinnsson says

    This seems like an area where cooperation with the military from the start makes a lot of sense. Now I’m not sure that EU air forces have any strategic need for long-range heavy lift transports, but they are at the very least short of tanker and AEWR aircraft as Libya demonstrated. The A380 would make a great platform for both needs.

    Likewise, I was highly annoyed when the USAF selected the obsolete 767 for its new tankers. Why not go with the 787?

    This sort of strategy gets your R&D and toolup costs for the freighter version paid for by the state from the start.

  69. Russia marketed a few new toys (nothing truly remarkable, but nevertheless somewhat interesting) at the Abu Dhabi weapons expo.

  70. Almost Missouri says

    I knew a grumpy, sullen British expat working in the Middle East. The one thing that would brighten his face was the prospect of getting on the next Emirates flight out of town. Now I see why.

    I think he was born in Rhodesia and had witnessed it transform into ‘modern’ Zimbabwe, so he had a lot to be grumpy about.

    “China…’s also a vast continental-sized country with rapidly growing personal income.”

    True, but most of that population (and growing personal income) is in the eastern third of the country with no plans to move west. And the eastern third is well served by extensive, reliable and inexpensive high-speed rail.

    Of course, with the flick of a pen—or whatever they write with there—China could end the rail subsidies and broaden the air corridors, but so far they seem to like it the way it is.

  71. Thorfinnsson says

    The “eastern third” of China is still very large. Beijing and Shenzen are more than 1,200 miles apart as the crow flies. Shanghai and Chongqing are nearly 900 miles apart.

    Plenty of room for air travel.

    And then there’s the fact that the Chinese are eager overseas tourists.

  72. 1200 miles is still less than 2000 kilometers, so a distance over which good and subsidized high speed rail is still competitive with air travel. Railway stations are usually in the city center, so if you add travel time to and from the airport, waiting for security, etc., then it’s not much longer, and probably way cheaper.

  73. Within 24 hours I got a Facebook hate speech comment deletion (I didn’t ask for a review) of a Hungarian language comment within a closed group and got kicked out of another closed group (probably for ad hominem, which I didn’t literally commit, and my interlocutor should have been kicked out for the same before I could even make a comment).

    Neither has happened to me before.

  74. Thorfinnsson says

    China’s HSR stations are not necessarily located in city centers, and unlike European HSR stations they have security (stabby Uighurs). Shanghai Hongqiao, Asia’s largest railway station, is located near Hongqiao Airport as part of a comprehensive intermodal transportation hub.

    The Chinese have a general model of clustering major transportation options together in intermodal hubs rather than locating their rail centers in city centers as is the case elsewhere. Not necessarily a bad idea though as usual there are tradeoffs.

    I don’t know what the prices are in China, but based on my experience in Western Europe I doubt that HSR tickets are cheaper than low cost flights. Low cost flights within France for instance are generally cheaper than TGV tickets to the same destinations. You take the TGV for the convenience and comfort instead.

  75. I took it for granted that the high speed rail was subsidized. Otherwise it’s not very competitive.

    Arriving in Paris by TGV is significantly better than by plane. It’s a nightmare getting from CDG to the city.

  76. Philip Owen says

    In my early days Heathrow, SFO, LAX & O’Hare were always busy. So was the old Denver airport where I was stuck during the SFO earthquake. Boise Municipal was never busy though. Schiphol and other European airports have got much more crowded and Schipol is now a machine for losing luggage which Chicago never did. Post Soviet Domodedovo felt busy because it was so badly organized. Now it is very well laid out and packed, if not as much as 3 or 4 years ago. I like Vnukovo. I have never felt crowded there.

  77. Almost Missouri says

    Maybe China can use those big passenger and freight jets to shuttle in reinforced infantry brigades after their paratroopers seize the airports in China’s sea/air/land invasion of Taiwan.