In our stupid, overdone, poorly-written summer-replacement-series that currently stands in for reality, you may recall that yesterday hip-hop musician Kanye West met with President Donald Trump, where they discussed, well, things. Among those things was an airplane. An airplane West showed Trump on his iPhone, a plane he said should be made by Apple, run on hydrogen, and is called the iPlane 1. Here’s why all of that is stupid.
I want to make it clear here that I don’t really want to pick on Kanye West, if possible, because in spite of his bombastic nature in general it maybe seems like he’s dealing with some mental health issues at the moment.
Still—a hydrogen plane? What’s that about, where does it come from, and is it even feasible?
The image of the plane shown to the President was explained as being a concept of an aircraft that would be built by Apple, makers of phones, computers, watches, and also zero aircraft, ever. Here you can see West showing the president the plane, and saying “We’re going to have Apple—an American company—work on this plane with us.” West also said it was hydrogen-powered.
It should play from the right moment (24:13) here:
The project was for a conceptual advanced passenger aircraft design, and Hirschberg’s proposal was impressive. It’s a lifting-body fuselage design with “turboprop ultrahigh-bypass hybrid” engines and “artificial muscles” to control wing surfaces. It also cleverly allows for passenger boarding through the rear of the aircraft, which is large enough to significantly reduce boarding time.
It’s a very advanced, futuristic concept that would rely on construction methods and materials yet to be developed in reality (or whatever this is we’re living in). When I said it’s stupid in the headline, I wasn’t referring to the plane design itself, which, while not practical today, nevertheless is an excellent design exercise and showcases some very good ideas.
No, what’s stupid is how the plane was pitched to the president. First, the whole Apple thing—why? Why do people seem to think that anything that looks sleek and futuristic has to be made by Apple?
Apple doesn’t make planes. If you’re going to pick a company to say a hyper-advanced hydrogen aircraft was built by, Purina or that cough drop company with the lithograph of the two brothers are equally qualified as Apple to make this thing. Did Kanye just pick Apple, or is this thing commonly known as an Apple iPlane?
Really, the only remotely plausible explanation I can come up with is that, in the shot West showed Trump, the plane sort of resembles Apple’s very first iMac from 1998:
Is that why it somehow got associated with Apple? Because it looks like a 20-year-old computer?
The other weird part of the whole thing is more complicated, and that’s the hydrogen part. In theory, yes, hydrogen seems like a fantastic element to use to power our prodigious energy needs. You can use it in fuel cells to make electricity, where the only byproduct is water, as Honda and Toyota and Hyundai does in their incredibly-limited production hydrogen cars nobody owns outside of that area in Orange County, CA where that one hydrogen fuel station is.
You can also burn hydrogen in combustion engines, like BMW has tried, and you can use it as rocket fuel or power plant fuel or whatever. It’s the most abundant element in the universe! It should be the best thing ever, right?
Well, not really. There’s plenty of hydrogen in space, but here on Earth it takes a shit-ton of energy just to get it. Right now, on Earth, the hydrogen economy just doesn’t make any sense. Electrolyzing it out of water is energy-intensive, and getting it from petroleum derivatives or biomass or other compounds takes more energy than you can recover from its use, and has severe ecological penalties, too.
Plus, you have to highly compress it into a liquid to store it in high-pressure, potentially dangerous containers, and don’t make me bring up the Hindenburg and flammability.
Look, there may be ways in the future involving asteroid mining or liberating it from other planetary atmospheres that eventually sort of make sense, but chances are it’ll only make sense for use in space, not powering a slick new Air Force One for Cyborg President Trump’s 30th term in office.
Every part of how West described that airplane image to Trump was wrong. Let’s just hope a bunch of these don’t get ordered for the Space Force.