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With interest in A380 airliners stagnating and all orders for a freighter model now cancelled, Airbus has begun offering additional variants to breathe new life into the troubled program. Much press attention has recently been paid to private VIP models of the behemoth that have captured the imagination of ultra-rich businessmen and monarchs who find smaller planes like the Boeing 737 or A340 "too cramped and confining."
Airbus has indicated that at least one and possibly two unnamed customers have ordered these VIP castles in the sky. One is apparently to become the airborne palace of a Middle Eastern monarch. Reports suggest the A380 will be heavily modified to provide all the accoutrements required by today's busy potentate. Among these additions are a great master bedroom comparable to any found in a five star hotel, conference rooms capable of conducting meetings between dozens of people and fully equipped for video conferencing, an enormous ballroom, and other large entertainment venues.
Advanced features are rumored to include a cocktail lounge stocked with over 8,400 bottles of spirits, a multi-lane bowling alley, a film and television screening room seating up to 50 guests, a discotheque, and an aviation-rated Jacuzzi that relies on a "gravitational-compensation system" to prevent water slosh during flight. The feasibility of installing an Olympic-size swimming pool complete with three-story high water slides is also being explored. However, suggestions that the lower cargo hold will be converted for transporting an airborne harem cannot be confirmed at this time.
Additional interest in customized luxury models of the A380 comes from owners of professional sporting franchises. Perhaps hoping to top billionaire Mark Cuban who bought a lavish Boeing 757 to transport his Dallas Mavericks basketball team, other owners have begun considering a luxurious A380 to transport their players in style. Heading the list of sports team owners with more money than common sense is the New York Yankees' George Steinbrenner. Steinbrenner has indicated his desire to make the Yankees "America's Team" by playing all home games at an altitude of 35,000 ft while crisscrossing the nation. "Just imagine the thrill of a boy in Peoria who can say his home team just hit a game winning homer while flying right over his house! It's magical!"
Although Steinbrenner's vision will likely have to await the rebirth of a Hindenburg-sized airship later in the decade, he and many other baseball franchises foresee advantages of installing batting cages and pitching mounds within the friendly confines of the mighty A380. Other teams could similarly choose to equip their airliners with soccer fields, football goal posts, ice hockey rinks, or even full size basketball courts. Such facilities would significantly enhance training during long-distance flights to and from away games. The A380 also offers more than adequate space for entertainment systems, steam rooms, massage tables, and other facilities vitally needed to maintain the health and well-being of modern athletes.
Beyond the luxuriously appointed flying Titanic, Airbus has also begun pursuing other market niches previously neglected by aircraft manufacturers. Consider, for example, the lack of access that much of the world's population has to popular attractions like a zoo or the circus. Rather than bring remote and widely dispersed peoples to distant cities that host such spectacles, a sufficiently large plane could bring these attractions directly to the people. Derisively dubbed "Noah's Ark" by some critics or the "Flying Animal Farm" by others, the A380 Aerial Zoo offers the opportunity to whisk a multitude of exotic animals to towns and villages around the world. Modifications to the standard A380 include removing portions of both upper decks to accommodate large animals like the giraffe and the installation of cages of varying size. Special care must also be taken to ensure animals cannot escape to damage wiring and critical controls or provoke a real-life recreation of the events depicted in the film Snakes on a Plane that would be most undesirable. A related variant offered to circus operators provides cargo space for clown car and human cannon storage, though suggestions of stowing the world's smallest man and woman in overhead bins would most likely be disallowed by government regulatory agencies.
Perhaps one of the boldest concepts is an airborne aquatic facility designed to pique interest from marine mammal park operators. The chief engineer reportedly claimed the idea was inspired by the film Star Trek IV in which the gallant crew of the starship Enterprise modified the cargo bay of a Klingon vessel to transport whales from the 20th century into the future to repopulate the extinct sea creatures. While experts have determined the A380 has the cargo volume and lifting capacity to support lifeforms as large as the walrus and giant squid, it is unclear whether most species of whales can be accommodated. The lack of a Star Trek matter-energy transporter device is also a limiting factor on the size of animal that can safely be brought aboard the aircraft.
Unfortunately, even the A380 is too small for some applications sought within the aviation industry. Airline travel within southeast Asia, for example, is expected to grow at an astounding 900% per year through 2117. The two-year delay in A380 deliveries to airlines in the region has only heightened demand for even larger craft to cram with human cargo. Airbus has responded to this need with the proposed A3XXX. In a move to pacify parental groups led by Tipper Gore who object to the prurient connotations of the term XXX, the design will likely be rechristened as the A390 upon program launch expected in 2011.
Preliminary plans for the new A390 call for a massive ten-deck layout able to accommodate up to 2,700 passengers in a typical three-class layout. The upper seven decks are to carry passengers while the lower three are devoted to cargo. Expected to have a maximum takeoff weight exceeding that of Neptune's smallest known moon, the A390 will only be possible thanks to the development of advanced next-generation air-breathing engines. The A390 will likely carry six, and possibly eight, turbofan engines providing 520,000 lb (2,300 kN) of thrust apiece, each of these approximately the same diameter as the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars. These engines will give the A390 intercontinental range and make possible direct flights between distant city pairs such as London to Sydney or El Dorado to Shambhala.
Like the A380, Airbus has also promoted the spacious capacity of its larger cousin as a selling point to skeptical customers. While an airline version of the A380 may offer space for a single duty free shop and a small lounge, the far more voluminous A390 could carry a shopping mall, several restaurants, an airborne casino complete with the Blue Man Group or Wayne Newton, a wedding chapel, medical facilities, and a university-class research library. In time, it is also likely that Airbus will offer variants of the A390 to private customers for purposes like VIP or livestock transportation. Other revolutionary concepts include an aerial embassy in which a country's ambassador and his staff could travel abroad or even an airborne college equipped with numerous classrooms, laboratories, and performing arts centers capable of bringing students into direct contact with the subjects they are studying.
Industry insiders also speculate it is only a matter of time before rival Boeing responds with its own suite of gargantuan airliners to compete with the A380 and A390. These concepts are likely being explored as part of the company's mysterious Project Gigantor that is reportedly considering a 3,000 passenger variant of the Blended Wing Body or adding two 280 ft (85 m) fuselage inserts to the venerable 747. Russia's recent resurgence into the aerospace market may also result in the resurrection of the Ekranoplan concept, and communist China too is developing an airliner manufacturing industry to compete with the West as part of Operation General Tso's Chicken.
Now before you send us an angry response about the countless inaccuracies in this article, just take a deep
cleansing breath and remember April Fools Day! All due apologies to Airbus, Tipper Gore, and George Steinbrenner,
the most powerful man in the universe.
- answer by Aerospaceweb.org Staff, 1 April 2007
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