It’s a bird … it’s a plane

Associated Press

LE BOURGET, France — From hulking aircraft big enough to carry rail cars to one-person motorized power gliders, the Paris Air Show is not just a hotbed for lucrative dealmaking. It’s also a chance for an aviation-crazed public to glimpse the latest technologies.

On the business side, Boeing Co. and European plane maker Airbus Industrie have been jockeying for market share with competing visions of future air travel.

But in the exhibition halls, the battle for attention is between two heavyweights of a different kind: the Ukrainian-built Antonov 225, the world’s biggest plane, and Airbus’ bulge-backed A300-600ST.

"It’s the hunchback of Notre Dame," said Marie Madelon, 28, of the northwestern French town of Evreux, referring to Airbus’ "Beluga" plane, so named for its resemblance to a whale.

The Antonov 225, which was designed to transport ICBM missiles or carry space shuttles piggyback, has drawn thousands of visitors each day.

One, writing anonymously in the Antonov 225’s visitor’s book, called the giant plane "a beautiful cathedral, it’s only missing gargoyles and a rose window."

At the other end of the size spectrum is the paramotor, a propeller-powered flying machine that straps on like a backpack and is attached to a wide paraglider. It can take off from the ground with a little help from a gust of wind.

"This isn’t quite like the movie ‘The Rocketeer’ — that’s science fiction," said Guy Leon-Dufour, president of Paris-based Adventures, which sells the one-person paragliders for about $5,000 each. "The paramotor flies every day."

The air show, which runs through Sunday, offers the chance for big-name companies such as General Electric Co. and Rolls-Royce to showcase their latest emissions-reducing jet engines. Helicopter makers trumpeted how their machines are cutting down on noise.

But there are also more mundane advances that can make passengers’ flights a bit more relaxing, such as new reclining seats demonstrated by the European Aeronautical Defense and Space Co., or state-of-the-art airplane toilets that may soon look like the porcelain ones at home.

Robert Schafer, president of Rockford, Ill.-based Envirovac, a maker of vacuum toilets, said his company is experimenting with ways to paint their toilets in different colors.

"People feel most comfortable with something that looks just like home," Schafer said.

Even ill-fated flying machines of old are making a comeback in a new guise. Despite lingering memories of the 1937 Hindenburg disaster over New Jersey, dirigibles are in fashion again. German airship maker Zeppelin was showing its new Zeppelin NT, which bobbed smoothly in the blue sky above the spectators.

"The Hindenburg was a terrible disaster, it’s something that people don’t forget," said Zeppelin director of flight mechanics Fausto Maugeri. "Now the zeppelin is coming back."

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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