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Here’s President Biden, in his ‘infrastructure’ speech, talking about the future of transportation:
I tell the kids…they’re going to see more change in the next 10 years than we’ve seen in the last 50 years. We’re going to talk about commercial aircraft flying at subsonic speeds — supersonic speeds. Be able to, figuratively, if you may — if we decided to do it, traverse the world in about an hour, travel 21,000 miles an hour. So much is changing. We have got to lead it.
21,000 mph is about Mach 28, or 28 times the speed of sound. No aircraft goes this fast today, and that includes high-performance military and experimental aircraft. Air resistance–which increases with the square of airspeed–limits the highest practical speeds for atmosphere-inhabiting, air-breathing vehicles. If you want to go Mach 28, you need not an airplane but a spaceship. It would certainly be possible to provide intercontinental rocket-based passenger service–Elon Musk has been talking about something of the kind–but there are serious problems, including the acceptability of the G-forces to passengers, and such a service would surely be very expensive, not something for the mass market. And, very significantly, such vehicles would be completely incompatible with Biden’s hostility toward fossil fuels.
And from the same speech:
Imagine a world where you and your family can travel coast to coast without a single tank of gas, or in a high-speed train, close to as fast as you can go across the country in a plane.
Even if we assume he is talking about today’s planes, rather than the hypersonic vehicles projected above–there is still that problem of air resistance, which is a lot higher at ground level than at 30,000 feet. Maybe you could get trains up to 500 mph, but the energy consumption would be vast. And there are other problems: the radius of curvature of any non-straight segments of track would be have to be very, very high. And stops would have to be widely-spaced and infrequent; otherwise, you lose much of the benefit of the potential benefit of the higher speed.
The only practical way to achieve ground-level speeds in the 500 mph range is probably to operate the vehicles inside an evacuated tunnel, as (again) Elon Musk has proposed. Construction costs would be very high, switching is more difficult than for conventional rail, and there are still the problems of curves and stops. There may be some opportunities for such a technology between certain city-pairs, or to connect multiple cities within a region, but a national Musk-style network seems improbable.
I’m remembering something that Biden said in early 2020:
Anybody who can go down 3,000 feet in a mine can sure as hell learn to program as well… Anybody who can throw coal into a furnace can learn how to program, for God’s sake!
No one who has ever managed people in a skill-diverse environment would glibly assert that anyone with Skill A can easily master Skill B…in reality, plenty of miners either couldn’t learn to program at a commercial level, or wouldn’t want to—just as many programmers couldn’t or wouldn’t want to do coal mining. But the truly bizarre part of that Biden statement is the assumption that there are a significant number of people in America who are paid to throw coal into furnaces. Actually, Joe, automatic stokers had been invented and were in common use before you were born. I doubt if there was much manual stoking going on by 1940, except on steamships…and coal as a fuel for ships was rapidly on its way out by that point, as it was being displaced by oil.
Biden, whose understandings of the energy world and the computer world seem equally flawed (and equally arrogant), is the individual who was Obama’s point man on his ‘jobs of the future’ initiative.
In the speech, Biden pats himself on the back for having brought Scientists back into the White House. (He doesn’t mention engineers, who would seem at least equally relevant in an infrastructure context.) But it doesn’t do much good to have scientific and technology experts on hand if the decision-maker lacks that background and judgment to ask intelligent questions and to evaluate contending courses of action.
Biden has never spent any significant time working outside the political sphere; he has never had to run projects or businesses where he would have to be concerned with what works–only with what sounds good. He is a quintessential word-person, as were Obama and Woodrow Wilson–although at a considerably lower level of eloquence than either of these men.Published in