Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


Breeding Season
by Sean Mulroy

Personal Artifacts Lost
by Marilyn K. Martin

Lover’s Moon
by Ronald D. Ferguson

When it Comes Around
by Auston Habershaw

by Nolan Edrik

Shuffleboard on the Hubble Deck
by Iain Ishbel

This Perilous Brink
by JT Gill

Only a Signal Shown
by L.E. Buis

Shorter Stories

Thunder Lizard
by William Suboski

Blue Harvest
by Andrew James Woodyard

Heat of the Night
by Gareth D. Jones


From Oshkosh to Tomorrow
by Joyce Frohn

A Primer on Quantum Field Theory
by Eric M. Jones



Comic Strips




From Oshkosh to Tomorrow

By Joyce Frohn

IT WAS A QUIET WEEK in Oshkosh. That is what the organizers of the Experimental Aviation Association’s AirVenture in Oshkosh, WI, held July 25–31, said. Nothing exploded that wasn’t supposed to; nobody famous died; no Guinness World Records set. Only a few planes crashed, but nothing unrepairable.

For them, it’s true. For everyone else, it’s not. Any place with 14,300 airplanes that is mainly run by volunteers and has 550,000 people attending has to expect some chaos. Whether it was speakers at the many forums that included “Star Trek Fact vs. Fiction,” “Dumb Ways Planes Crash” (my takeaway from that is shut the doors), or “How to Vomit in Space,” to programs on the dangers of illegal border crossings by ultralights and drones, to airshows that still register on the Richter Scale (the fire department has asked that the recreational explosions be toned down), to things even Isaac Asimov never dreamed of, it’s been wild.

There’ve been a few injuries, but any place where eight-year-olds can learn how to rivet and disassemble plane engines, and there are open welding classes, these are expected. If you see pictures of “UFOs” popping up, check the date stamp on the photo; it was probably shot here. (Although, here, UFOs refer to the United Flying Octagenians.)

Did you know that it is possible to fly acrobatics while throwing lit fireworks out of your airplane? (YouTube has a good video.) The acrobatics shows, skywriters, and wing walkers were here. As were the Continent’s best acrobatic team, the Canadian Snow Birds. Even retired Air Force personnel agree they beat the Blue Angels.

For science fiction writers, the place is a gold mine. There are three kinds of near futures we can write about and all of them need airplanes. The clean, perfect solar utopias, the weird, high-tech tomorrows, and the not so perfect post-apocalyptic futures. All of those planes were here.

The Solar Impulse impressed, although for the second year in a row, the actual plane wasn’t here. Scheduling got in the way, and last year they had to avoid a storm. They did fly 40,000 kilometers without fuel, however.

Solar and electric planes made a solid showing, with Sunflyer and ElectraFlyer leading the way. ElectraFlyer is a conversion kit that replaces the old engine in a electraflyersmall plane with an electric one. The first one came out in 2008. Electric planes are light (25 percent lighter than Avgas powered), can recharge in around thirty minutes and are less prone to stalls and internal icing than regular planes.

[Left, ElectraFlyer’s normal cruise speed is around 70mph which allows for the best efficiency. The maximum flight speed is rated at 90mph. The motor is a custom built DC 18hp (13.5kw) permanent magnet motor.]

The makers were pushing how cheap they are to fly as trainers at two dollars an hour instead the current fifty dollars an hour. The current three-hour time limit on battery power is no problem in one-hour training flights. And that is important because they will be training the 550,000 pilots the world will need in ten years, accordiing to NBAA/ EAAirVenture. And China is opening up to civilian aircraft. An official statement from China at EAAirVenture estimates they will open 2,800 airports before 2030.

Electric planes are silent, which explains why the U.S. Forest Service and some law enforcement groups are so interested in them. By the time you see the cloud or hear the hum of the engines, it’s “Smile, You’re on Law Camera.”

That doesn’t take into account what the lower cost of flying could mean. Will cheap flight change the world as much as the automobile revolution did? Probably more. Rural vacations would be come very cheap, especially with the included solar recharger. These planes could land on small runways in say, rural New Guinea. The most remote areas become accessible: a tower for cell phones, some solar panels for power, a dirt strip, and you have an instant tourist stop.

These planes are too small to carry much cargo, so although people in those villages could see the outside world and meet people from all over the planet, material goods would come in much slower. Would that lead to any problems remains to be seen.

NASA attended EAAirVenture with its plans for a rocket to Mars. The craft looks good; it’s really big, but costly. NASA also talked about returning to the moon. Will there be enough money for that? In addition to pushing big projects, the space agency demonstrated how the discoveries of space have helped here on Earth. (I think when they boast about Velcro shoes and improved golf clubs, they may be grasping at straws.)

Drive ’n’ Fly

For those of us into the “plane” weird, the show presented a number of car/planes. Switchblade from Samson Motorworks and Transition from Terrafugia are just two models of personal aircraft.

Technically, Transition is already in production. The problem is that it is on the heavy and slow side for a small plane. The way the wings fold for driving makes a lot of pilots nervous. Transition was the first of its kind, however, and managed to figure out all kinds of cool stuff, like where to put the gas tank, how big the glove compartment has to be, and where to put the license plate. The company is now working on a vertical takeoff vehicle that is road legal.

The Switchblade from Samson Motorworks dispensed with a lot of those troubles by being classified as an “enclosed motorcycle” when it is on the ground. This cuts down on things like airbags and weight requirements. You can take off in one switchbladestate as a car and land as a motorcycle. They have nicknamed the way the wings fold as “Metal Origami” and it’s beautiful to see in the video on their site.

[Left, the Switchblade is a three-wheeled, fully enclosed vehicle that you drive from your garage to a local airport. Once there, you swing the wings out and fly directly to your destination at up to 200 mph, at altitudes to 10,000 feet.]

Samson have also found a loophole in the experimental and homebuilt airplane regulations. For years, if pilots built their own plane, these rules were laxer. However, pilots felt that more complex planes were too hard to build at home. The Switchblade solves this dilemma. The pilot can hop on over to Samson’s Builder Assistance Center and, under supervision, construct the plane on their assembly line. Presto—a home built. This helps drop the price to $140,000 and that includes everything. (Many kit-builts expect the pilot to buy extras, like instruments and the engine.) Pre-orders are already coming in. A pilot who has pre-ordered said that it was the convenience that made him buy it. No more rental vehicles, moving luggage, etc.

Several car/planes that have been at the show past years didn’t make it this year. Like the “Maverick.” Some call it “the Flying Dune Buggy.” It is in production now. Some are available at larger airshows and can be delivered. The Maverick is a para-plane. (Its wing is a cloth parachute.) But because of this, it can’t use a commercial airport. It also is not road legal in some countriesportcopters (like the U.S.) because of the fan sticking out the back. On the other hand, it doesn’t require a pilot’s license. It can go up to 100 miles an hour on the ground, and gets 30 miles to the gallon on the road. The wheels can be replaced with floats or skies. It has off-road capabilities with a heavy-duty frame.

[Right, Sportcopter II features a roomier cabin equipped with forced air ventilation and heat. The cabin and engine are completely enclosed.]

Gyrocopters are old and weird, really old. They were invented in 1923. They’re also called gyroplanes, autogyros, and autogiros. You’ve seen them in movies and on the White House lawn. They’re mainly sold as kits. Sellers assure buyers, “Only a few weekends to assemble, great family bonding time.” They haven’t changed much since the 1980s. They are cheap, weird, and very safe.

The new weird is Luminati Aerospace. They have developed high-performance algorithms and autopilots for vortex seeking, formation flying. Reductions in drag on trailing aircraft of up to sixty percent are being realized. Another product of theirs is a module plane made of woven composite that can be built using a 3D printer, engine excepted, so far.

The Air Show displayed planes that turn into boats. Among them is the Triphibian from MVP Aero. This plane can land on water or land and has an outside deck that can turn into a cabin, or hang like a hammock. It costs $189,000.

“Jetman” wasn’t here this year and neither was whoever he is training in secret somewhere in Switzerland. In previous years, there have been jetpacks; watching one of those land is enough to make most people not want to buy. Personal balloons look cool—if you’re not going anywhere in a hurry. The personal dirigible that turned up one year is also missing. If seen, please lasso. The FAA wants a word with him.

Then there is the guy who watched a certain duck aviation cartoon and asked, “Why can’t I wakeboard behind a plane?” Instead of settling for the “you don’t live in a cartoon” answer, he is building the WingBoard. Aaron Wypyszynski says that finding volunteers to fly the board is easy but finding a pilot willing to tow it is a little harder.

On the Dark Side

Pessimists like to insist the future of the world is bleak. Many seem to think that whatever disaster befalls, societal collapse, EMP blast, depletion of fossil fuels, etc. would mean empty skies. However, as one pilot insisted at EAAirVenture, “None of my planes would be hurt by any EMP.”

Solar and electric planes would still be flying. And the smallest planes would become very important. As they may be down the line, regardless. The ultralights, paraplanes, and other micros fly without electronics, and most use two-cycle oilskyrascal instead of gas or avgas. Some have even been adapted to run on diesel, which would mean that they could run on vegetable oil.

[Right, the Powrachute Sky Rascal features sleek lightweight design, integral frontal fuselage bars, and a powerful engine]

Powered parachutes are about as small as a plane can get. They are what they sound like—nylon parachute, motor, and sling seat; landing gear could be a pair of sneakers! The largest models have a tricycle-wheeled body and can hold two people. It takes about twelve days to learn to fly one and sellers have seen an eight-year-old in the pilot’s seat, assuring parents. “If she can handle a bike in traffic, she’ll be fine.” These craft can stay aloft for about three hours at 35 miles an hour. That’s a one-way flight of 105 miles. They cost less than $3,000 brand new, with a radio and nice colors. Used ones are cheap; find someone whose shoes caught fire on a bad landing!

Planes this small can’t be seen on radar. In fact, ultralights are already being used by drug smugglers crossing the U.S./Mexico border. Ultralights can carry two people. Imagine waves of these little planes flying over disputed territory, each loaded with one jockey-sized pilot and bombs instead of a passenger. But this is the stuff of science fiction.

In conclusion, one thing that struck me about the EAAAirVenture show is that based upon the innovative, weird multitude of personal aircraft on the ground and in the skies today, the future is going to be a whole lot of fun. END

Joyce Frohn began her writing career after college in 1995. Her work has been published in “ClarkesWorld,” “Penumbra,” “ Midnight Echo,” and dozens of other magazines. She has also been included in four anthologies.





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