John McGinnis: airplane designer. Visionary or foolish dreamer? You be the judge.
John McGinnis from Montana has had a dream for 30 years. His dream is to design and build a better airplane. He believes that his airplane will have perhaps 80% less drag than the typical airplane flying today. If true, it would be a major breakthrough.
John appears to fit the stereotype of the lone inventor. This is the individual that works alone for years and years to make his vision come true. Nobody else believes in him. The experts mock him. His thinking is so far ahead that others cannot even begin to comprehend his theories.
Then one day, his creation comes to life. It delivers on every promise. The inventor is finally vindicated. The world beats a path to his door. Fame and riches soon follow.
There is another possibility. The individual in question is a genius all right. But instead of being a technical genius, it turns out that he is really a marketing genius. His enthusiasm and energy are infectious. He attributes to his invention all sorts of nebulous benefits.
When asked for technical details, all that we hear is gibberish. We conclude that it is preposterous for us mere mortals to try and understand his thoughts. All that is left for us to do is to shake our heads in collective wonder.
The need to keep his invention away from his competitors leads to much secrecy. Periodic tantalizing glimpses keep the faithful in the fold. Setback after setback force the postponement of the presentation of the final proof of the concept time after time…
Where does John fit in?
I have watched every video and read every word that I could find about the Synergy airplane. Mr. McGinnis is very big on throwing around obtuse technical terms. Unfortunately, he is also very skittish about going into specific technical details of his airplane design.
In one of the online forums, one of his followers offhandedly comments that “[John McGinnis is] one of the few genuine geniuses in the world.” Alarm bells went off in my head right away. Considering how little evidence John has provided to prove this genius status, I am much more inclined to categorize the statement as the rambling of a “true believer”.
The Synergy Aircraft website contains almost no information at all, except for a prominent “Donate” button. A few white papers with technical details would have been much appreciated.
A few years ago they built a quarter scale model of their design. I would think that this model would be an excellent platform for proving their theories. Unfortunately, again, the inventor says that the model has sixteen times the drag that the full-size airplane will have. His words, not mine. I have carefully watched it fly around in the videos. To my eyes it flies just like any other model airplane does.
There is another wrinkle to this airplane. The CAFE (Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency) Foundation creates and advances the understanding of personal aircraft technologies through research, analysis, and education.
They conduct annual performance comparison “challenges” of airplanes. For an aircraft company that hopes their flagship product will achieve an 80% reduction in drag, winning a CAFE Challenge would go a long way towards validating their vision.
A key metric used by CAFE is a so-called “person mpg”. It is the traditional miles per gallon measure multiplied by the number of persons in the airplane. There are not too many personal aircraft on the market that can carry five people, like the Synergy airplane does. In fact, if the Synergy team manages to achieve the same fuel efficiency as a single seater airplane, they will automatically get a five-fold boost in their test results. Is that how they plan to achieve their 80% reduction in drag?
My initial plan for this article was to study all the available literature and then write a clear explanation of how this airplane is supposed to achieve its drag reduction. What little solid information I was able to find does not add up, so that was that.
Do not let the controversy surrounding the full-scale prototype keep you from building a scale model. This is an amazing looking airplane, and well-worth effort. In fact, with just a little bit of practice, you too can be spouting off unintelligible technical terms. Imagine the throng of true believers at the RC flying field!