I Wasn’t Sure If I Wanted To Write About This Viral Video Of A Flying Nuclear Fusion Powered Hotel But It’s Just Too Stupid To Ignore

Skyhotel Top

I’ll admit that even though my line of work is creating words and images and occasionally videos to place on the internet in the hopes that other humans will choose to read those words, look at those images, or watch those videos (really, those are just a combination of spoken words and a bunch of images every second), I still can’t always understand just why some things get all crazy popular while other things don’t. Today I happened to come across one of these sorts of things, an extremely well-executed but baffling video about a fictional nuclear fusion-powered “sky hotel.” Why have so many outlets written about this thing that very much does not, and, likely can not, at least in the nearish future, exist? Why am I writing about it? What the hell is going on?

I better show you the video in question, so you know what I’m going on about:

The video, done by Hashem Al-Ghaili, was based on this illustrated concept for a flying hotel:

Flyinghotel Concept

It’s like something a kid might draw. A very talented, imaginative kid, but still. And I don’t want that taken as a slight, as there’s always a place for this sort of thing, but the fairly straight coverage this is getting, with headlines like:

Inside giant flying luxury hotel that can stay in the air for years

… is just silly.

Essentially, this is just the modern version of those Popular Mechanics or Popular Science or Science and Mechanics and probably Popular Popular covers that would show wild, futuristic techno-fantasies, sometimes even of essentially the same sort of colossal, atomic-powered aircraft:

Popscicovers

 

Really, we’ve been here before. Many times, even. Gigantic aircraft, flying hotels, atomic/nuclear-powered aircraft, this is well-trod ground. Hell, back in 1945, Martin Aircraft proposed a flying hotel based on their Martin Mars cargo aircraft:

Martinhotel

So why did this recent animation capture so much attention now?

I mean, it’s not even remotely plausible: the crucial technology that’s mentioned to run all of the electric engines that keep this massive Love Boat in the sky rely on nuclear fusion, which, while a lot of interesting progress has been made recently, has yet to reliably demonstrate it can produce more energy than is required to sustain the fusion reaction. It just doesn’t exist yet.

I’m not saying this thing isn’t fun, but it’s basically just a very well-executed fantasy drawing, no different than those old magazine covers, just someone taking a “wouldn’t it be cool if” train of thought and making it visual. Clearly, there’s some sort of latent desire for a large flying hotel type vehicle, at least among some segment of the population. Back in 2006, the concept was for a massive lighter-than-air dirigible-type aircraft to do the job:

Blimphotel

And there were other blimp/airship flying hotel concepts. some with dramatically unexpected shapes, like Seymour Powell’s AirCruise concept:

Sure, it looks different, but it’s basically the same rich-dude masturbatory sky-vacation shit: float in the air in incredible luxury, look out at clouds in post-coital bliss, then eat lots of shrimp or something. And that one is from 2010.

That concept was a bit more plausible at least because it didn’t rely on still sci-fi technologies like sustainable, compact nuclear fusion reactors. And, even if we just somehow accept that the technology is possible to make something like this work (hopefully, they’ll make it so the landing gear actually retracts, which the video does not show) there’s still so many logistical issues: how is maintenance to be done while in flight? What about resupplying water and food and all the merchandise that will be sold in the flying Sunglass Huts and Gucci stores and Hot Topics? Can passengers fly to it and board while it’s in the air? Is there a way to evacuate in an emergency? The video suggests this is the case, but, come on – pilots are going to be cool with maneuvers like this?

Docked747

Just look at that up above there, with what looks to be Air Force One docked to the Sky Hotel. You’d have to be an absurdly good pilot to make this work, dealing with wake turbulence behind the massive hotel to just approach it, then positioning the 747 exactly above that elevator thing, which would also need to be able to support the weight of that 747 and deal with any motion that either plane may impart, being able to detach readily, before damaging either aircraft, there’s just so many issues here, so little room for error before distaster. Why?

If it crashes, what happens to the torus of star-hot plasma that powers the fusion reactor? Do we just let it burn a hole down to the core of the Earth and just put some orange cones around the rim?

I’m all for imagination and fun and absurd ideas – I think my life’s body of work should prove this – but there’s just something about this whole thing that rubs me the wrong way. Is it the lavish, absurd, needless decadent luxury of it all? The complete ignoring of physics and engineering? The dumb look? My own small-minded bitterness? Is it just me, being a dick?Skyhotel Diagram

I’m not sure, to be honest. Let’s ask Mercedes; she’s actually had flying lessons, after all.

Mercedes’ Take

When I watched the video I had to check and see if it wasn’t an April Fools joke that everyone had collectively missed. This thing is what, twenty times the size of a Boeing 747? Yet it appears to have just 26 wheels. That’s six fewer wheels than the recently destroyed Antonov An-225. Sure, each wheel appears to be the size of a semi truck, but I somehow doubt there’s enough wheel to support the weight of what’s supposed to be a flying cruise ship. And since saving weight isn’t a design goal, this thing would be comically heavy.

The animation also doesn’t seem to match up with the narration. If this is supposed to be suspended above the clouds and offering passengers breathtaking views of wildlife, it’s going to need some sort of VTOL capability, which isn’t shown. I mean, the animation shows it taking off like a plane in a short take off and landing (STOL) competition.

Instead, the animation shows the aircraft flying like a commercial airliner, but the thing is moving at such a slow speed. And unless its a VTOL or STOL-capable, I also have to think that the runway length necessary for this thing to take off has to be crazy. Maybe they’re going to use the absurdly-long runway that the plane in Fast & Furious 6 used.This is to say that this whole thing is all kinds of unrealistic and absurd. But I am amused at the visual of this thing flying everywhere with its landing gear down.

 

 

 

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82 Responses

  1. “If it crashes, what happens to the torus of star-hot plasma that powers the fusion reactor? Do we just let it burn a hole down to the core of the Earth and just put some orange cones around the rim?”

    The volume of plasma in a fusion reactor is very small. Given a catastrophic deconstruction event, the plasma would simply rapidly dissipate. There is no risk -at all- of what you describe. The worst thing that could come of a fusion reactor’s destruction is the mechanical explosion of the containment’s superconducting magnets, comparable to something like a malfunction at a steel plant.

  2. One thing I know is, its relatively easy to float a boat. We’ve been doing it for thousands of years. Still, cruise ship disasters happen & luckily they are usually in shallow water when they do. This monstrosity amplifies the risk of disaster by an exponential (and completely unnecessary) factor. So, no you’re not being a dick, its just that preposterous.

  3. And now you know how I feel so very fucking often, Jason. So very painfully fucking often.

    NO, JUST THROWING RANDOM SHIT YOU DOWNLOADED OFF THE INTERNET AND THEN SET UP FOLLOWING A ‘HELLO WORLD’ STYLE HOWTO INTO PRODUCTION IS NOT A FUCKING GOOD IDEA. NOT ANY MORE THAN BASING PRODUCTION ON WHATEVER SHINY FUCKING OBJECT GOT DANGLED IN FRONT OF YOU! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRGH!

  4. So much to unpack here. I have 2 favorites. The movie theater and the MRI machine. “I was going to get this tumor looked at, but who has the time. Now I don’t have to waste a day at the imagining center, I can get the cancerous tumor looked at while I’m on my way to my vacation.”
    Also, all repairs and maintenance is done while in flight? Uh, that’s a hard pass.

  5. Back in 1927 when Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic in Spirit of St. Louis, it took him a day and a half. So it made some sort of sense when Bel Geddes put forth his idea of a superplane with the thinking “if it still takes a day and a half to get there, why not make it the BEST day and a half possible?”
    This monstrosity, though, makes the opposite of sense. While there were luxury sleeper aircraft from about the middle Thirties till well into the Fifties, jet power made the whole notion seem quaint and obsolete.
    And whoever did this had absolutely no understanding of pressure cabins, why airliners have them, or why airliners don’t have panoramic windows.

  6. “nuclear fusion, which, while a lot of interesting progress has been made recently, has yet to reliably demonstrate it can produce more energy than is required to sustain the fusion reaction. It just doesn’t exist yet.”

    Lol, not only have they NOT even reached thermal breakeven, no one is really quite sure where the commercial breakeven point for fusion is, because no one has ever tried recovering energy from fusion. Even the most generous estimates I’ve seen are that commercial breakeven couldn’t occur below Q=100

    Oh, and maybe someone else could explain, but why would a plane powered by electricity be using turbofan engines?

    1. I didnt think about the engines till you mentioned them.Was so overwhelmed by the rest of it!
      Maybe they’re adapted from turbofan designs because thats what everyone understands?Especially the noise reduction benefits compared to props.
      Throw a motor in where the turbine was and optimize from there.

  7. To be honest I’m disappointed they didn’t take this design to it’s natural conclusion.

    Where is the swirly waterslide sticking out of the side of the fuselage? Why is there no open-air rooftop pool? What about the rollercoaster that rides down the front of the stabilizer, and the go-kart track across the wings?

    Seriously, people have no imagination anymore.

    1. Don’t worry about the open-air rooftop pool, ladies and gentlemen! There is a force field to keep the turbulence (and your untimely death) out!

      I mean, if it works for Star Wars/Trek…

  8. I saw this a few days ago and my first thought was they were stealing from Miyazaki. Looks a lot like the aircraft from Naussica. It’s an insane idea but at the same time, science fiction precedes science fact so who knows what will happen when technology catches up with this ridiculous idea.

    1. No. Just, no. The technical stupidity if the concept on every fucking level would be too long for me to describe (shit aerodynamics, stupid structural design, idiotic propulsion) I’d barely have time to brush on the idiocy of the business model (“hey! Want to stay in a hotel you can’t leave and barely see out of?”).

      It fucking grinds my gears to see any publication give this sort of horseshit any modicum of consideration. It’s about as bad as that stupid plane using “wind turbine mounted on the fuselage”. We have enough real problem to fix in the world not to waste time explaining why that 8 years old doodle deserves to be shat on.

      Yours truly,

      A former aerodynamics and propulsion engineer

  9. I think there probably would be a market for an ultra-luxurious flying yacht-style cruise ship, but it would be in the form of a pretty conventional semi-rigid airship, not whatever video game cut scene that is. Basically, a somewhat larger Zeppelin NT-Series crossed with a Regent Seven Seas cruise ship. Do itineraries flying over the Grand Canyon or Rocky Mountains or across the Alaskan interior, or along the Great Wall of China, I think enough rich people would pay for that to fill every cabin, it’s just whether the thing would actually be profitable with every cabin filled that’s the open question

  10. While at first, I was like WTF? I thought back to my Apocalypse novel days and there were a few that had something similar as the last flying fortress/bunker.

    Would be it awesome, sure. Practical, nah. When has that stopped the human race before.

  11. This reminds me of 70s high-concept disaster movies where something always goes horribly wrong, like “The Big Bus.”

    That said, the US military was working on a nuclear plane at one point in the 70s or 80s. Note that they don’t have one yet. That should tell you all you need to know about this idea.

    1. I didn’t think I’d ever heard of this film before but after looking it up I’d be astonished if my father hadn’t seen it and told me about it but I wasn’t listening. I’ll have to ask him, if he hasn’t it sounds right up his alley.

  12. I didn’t see the fake Air Force one perched atop this monstrosity before I made my comment. Help, I think my brain is bleeding. Why is the nose gear retracted but the mains down? How is that elevator perch thing supposed to work?

    And now I’m thinking about the incredible wake turbulence caused by something roughly the size of Sears Tower flying through the air.

  13. The one thing that ruined it entirely for me was the mention of a pool. Water is heavy enough to warrant some serious engineering in more mundane things like glass bottom pools and the like.

    Can you imagine what take off and landing would be like with a pool on board?? But hey, they probably found a way to gimbal mount the entire thing so its always level.

    on another note, I love flying, practically grew up on a plane (navy brat overseas), but one look at those external elevators and NOPE!.

    This would be more believable if it was presented as an orbital hotel.

  14. This stupid thing has been littering my FB feed for days now and I’ve been doing everything possible to not give it the clicks it desires from me. Thank you for writing about it here and stating exactly the same arguments I have about it. It’s just as bad, if not maybe worse, than those shitty car “news” sites that show some shitty sketch of “the new 2025 Chevelle!” or whatever other stupid fucking boomer bait they can create for themselves. FUCK! Now I’m angry again.

  15. Ok, ok three things I need to get out there.

    1. “The government doesn’t control the sky. What if you lived in a balloon?” Someone saw that episode of The Simpsons and thought “Hmm. Ya know…”
    2. This is a great change of scenery for people who are bored with getting norovirus on cruise ships.
    3. This line needs to be recognized: “If it crashes, what happens to the torus of star-hot plasma that powers the fusion reactor? Do we just let it burn a hole down to the core of the Earth and just put some orange cones around the rim?”

    1. damned message board…

      rest of the message :
      and even with a blimp it’s far fetched, and the cruise customers will have to adapt to the fact that on a flying cruise, only the bare necessities are available due to weight constraint. ( so no go kart track, no wave swiming pool, no artificial rock climbing wall, no giant water slides, no… well most of the things cruise people take for granted )

    1. “Conceptual renderings are like bums, everybody has one.”

      Yes, but some of us try to remove the crap from our bums. This travesty doesn’t even try to follow the rules of aerodynamics, and refuses to note that the dome is not going to make it, and won’t impress people when they are looking up at the monotonous sky throughout the trip (while freezing their asses off and going blind in the bright sunlight).

      Has this artist ever flown in a jet plane?

  16. Not to pile on the ridiculousness, but I have a feeling this monstrosity would be easier to operate in space (how you’d get it up there, who the hell knows).

    But then I think about that episode from For All Mankind with the space hotel disaster and realize one small piece of space junk puncturing that large glass enclosure, and everyone onboard dies.

    Bad PR.

  17. It’s been hilarious watching this stupid post from reddits worldbuilding subreddit spread all over the internet. The wheels don’t go up because he couldn’t figure out how to animate them properly, and we had a lot of fun poking fun at it over there.

  18. “it’s basically the same rich-dude masturbatory sky-vacation shit: float in the air in incredible luxury, look out at clouds in post-coital bliss, then eat lots of shrimp or something.”

    Those rich dudes have a far better chance at their *other* masturbatory vacation shit – a comped ticket to a low G pagen themed masked sex robot orgy and all you can eat shrimp buffet on the moon – than a ride in any of these flying mega douche palaces.

  19. WOW, a flying hotel for the uber-rich to escape the world they’ve rendered uninhabitable! What a fantastic idea! Let’s get them all aboard, tell them@ only 20 billion dollars per person double occupancy inner cabin it’s a bargain! Promise them the moon, then deliver them to it.
    Don’t worry, the pilot and crew bail out as soon as the Tesla based self driving autopilot is engaged.
    What the Heck? It’s all a great fantasy!

  20. I’ll join the chorus of wacky imagining is great and all, but this is just kinda dumb even before you get to the engineering impracticalities.

    No one is asking for this, and if they were you should gently and forcefully ask them to stop.

  21. I thought the normal plane was supposed to be a hood ornament/figurehead and emergency lifeplane because why wouldn’t the elevator shaft be rigid and capable of supporting a 747?

    I guess those are electric turbines that the fusion plant powers or maybe hydraulic, why not, it looks old school.

    And that metal and glass structure that can take the place of a critical part of the airframe on a plane the size of a skyscraper is simply amazing.

    This whole thing has weird Heroic Age sci-fi energy.

    1. It’s possible to design a jet engine that uses a nuclear reactor to heat up incoming air in the same way we currently burn jet fuel to heat it up. Search for “Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion program”.
      It is at least technically possible to build one with current technology, although making the whole system light enough to used on an aircraft is a different matter.

      (Which reminds me of a fun idea from Charlie Stross’ story ‘Missile Gap’: Nuclear powered Ekranoplan! Captained by Yuri Gagarin of course.)

  22. Cruise ship in the sky sounds even stupider than a cruise ship on the ocean. I think the best use case for a big ass fusion reactor plane would be flying huge numbers of people across the world. I bet you could put 50,000 people in that thing for $200 bucks a pop. Pack them in and turn around and do it again. Could decimate the conventional long haul airline industry.

  23. Wow, just wow. No actual lifting surfaces like, say a wing has.
    Then there are the logistics.
    They apparently expect 5000 people too board this thing at onetime?
    or
    They expect to land to unload and load grooups of 100 at a time?
    Doesn’t that defeat the intent to stay aloft for long periods of time?
    How often does a large number (thousands) of people want to spend a long period of time inside a building together, let alone a flying one?
    So, so many simple questions about a stupid idea.

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