We’ve come a long way since 1896!

Ever since the Wright Brothers’ famous first manned flight in Ohio, we’ve been hard at work finding new ways to reach the skies. From higher heights (which translates to faster and more efficient travel) to in-flight WiFi, we’ve seen a lot of advancements in the past 100+ years… and this is just the beginning!

Today, in honor of National Aviation Day (August 19th), we’re highlighting 5 exciting airplane innovations that should be arriving in the coming years. So please fasten your seatbelt, put your tray table in the upright position and get ready for takeoff!

 

1. Graphene: The super-metal that will make our planes faster (and require less fuel)

 

Discovered in 2004 by researchers at the University of Manchester, Graphene is a “super metal” that is only one atom thick.

It provides an extremely thin, lightweight means of support – and while it has potential applications in pretty much every field, aviation plans to take full advantage.

The powerful material will be used to line plane wings, making them more sturdy while wicking away water. Graphene will take the place of the (much) heavier materials currently used for the job, such as carbon fiber and fiber resins.

While it’s still a ways away from being implemented at scale, it’s an exciting hint at the advancements to come!


2. Electric-powered airplanes!

 

Forget the gas-guzzling superjets of the past… because the airplanes of the future will be super-clean electric flying machines!

We’ve already seen examples of solar-powered airplanes, such as the Solar Impulse (which traversed the world last year). But soon, photon-powered planes won’t just be a novelty… they’ll be the standard.

In the meantime, experiments with battery-powered planes look promising as well. Recently, Boeing and JetBlue Ventures agreed to back a new battery-powered commercial jet. They plan to have a working prototype this year, breaking ground for a new wave of sustainable flight.


3. Uber for private jets may finally become reality

We’ve seen a few attempts at creating an “Uber for private jets” (our favorite being “Ubair”, which is just too much fun to say). The idea is simple: if you’ve got a private jet laying around gathering dust, why not charter it to those who could use it? You earn cash for an asset you’re not using, and us “normal folks” get a cheap ride in a private jet. It’s a win-win!

XO (formerly known as JetSmarter) is perhaps the most popular example of these new apps. Simply pay $5,000 per year and you’ll get access to basic seats on inter-European destinations. Of course, more luxurious options are available – but over time, we expect this “democratization” of private jets to continue, eventually opening access to (almost) everyone.


4. Planes that almost reach outer space

The concept of flying to extreme heights has been around a while, with initial attempts beginning as early as 2004… but numerous challenges (including a test pilot death in 2015) have prevented the industry from truly moving forward.

However, that doesn’t stop us from getting excited at the prospect of “near-space flight”. By reaching altitudes near the top of the ozone layer, planes enjoy extremely reduced drag – allowing them to go farther, faster (and with reduced fuel cost).

Of course, once we master near-space travel, the next step is outer space hotels. But we’ll save that concept for another article…


5. In-flight apps that increase passenger comfort

 

We all have smartphones these days – and that allows us to connect with our environment in ways we never imagined possible before.

This connectivity is moving to the aviation industry, and quickly. You’ve likely already seen plenty of in-flight entertainment options, but soon you can expect even more convenience from that little smartphone screen.

For example, Boeing recently tested vCabin – an app that allows you to call flight attendants, adjust your lighting, order food and even find out if the nearest lavatory is occupied.

This is quite the leap from a few years ago – when we all thought our phones were capable of bringing down entire fleets if we forgot to turn them off. As we become more connected, it seems “Airplane Mode” may become a thing of the past!


 

Alright, that’s it for today’s list. Which of these upcoming innovations are you most excited about? Are there any you hope they’ll work on next? Let us know in the comments below!