New electric airplanes on the horizon?

Source: LinkedIn, November 13, 2013

By: Chip Cutter

Elon Musk, the dreamer behind Tesla’s electric cars and SpaceX’s rockets, is already tinkering with his next big idea: an electric airplane that could takeoff and land vertically.

At The New York Times’ DealBook conference Tuesday, Musk said “there’s an interesting opportunity” to create a supersonic jet that could fly in such a way. But he cautioned that such a plane could be a long way off.

“It seems unlikely to come from Boeing or Airbus given that they seem to be focused on very incremental improvements to their planes as opposed to radical improvements,” he said. “But it could come from a startup. If I were to have another company in the future, which will not be anytime soon, I think that would be the thing to do: an electric aircraft.”

Sebastian Thrun, the founder of Google X, has made the case that, by 2045, some consumers will use flying cars and live like the “Jetsons.” Musk doesn’t see it.

“I’m not sure it’s what people want,” he said. “If you have a huge number of (flying) cars, and you have mechanical failures, people will be wondering whether a car is going to land on your head, or house, or whatever.”

But commercial airliners that takeoff and land vertically would work well with electric power, Musk says. They could also be located closer to cities since they would not require large airports with extended runways.

The idea came to him after the Concorde was grounded in 2003, ending an era of supersonic travel. That saddened him, but got him thinking about alternatives. “It bothers me when it seems the future is getting worse,” he said.

He already has a design for the new supersonic plane.

In the 20-minute interview, the entrepreneur discussed a range of other topics, including the recent car fires in the Tesla S sedans — and why starting a company is like eating glass.

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