Peter Rhodes on a doomed space mission, a truthful advert and the golden age of bolt-on aircraft

It was billed as the Great British Take Off but, alas, it flopped like a doomed souffle.

Richard Branson. Photo: REUTERS/Henny Ray Abrams
Richard Branson. Photo: REUTERS/Henny Ray Abrams

Richard Branson's Virgin Orbit was supposed to be the last word in satellite launch technology but there was something of the 1930s about it. That was the golden age of bolt-on aviation when, in the quest for ever-greater range, two or more aircraft were joined together, resulting in piggy-back seaplanes and biplanes slung beneath airships.

A hundred years later, Virgin Orbit was a launch rocket bolted on to a Jumbo jet. And although it looked ungainly and finally crashed to earth, there's nothing wrong with the concept and I'm sure we all wish it well for next time. Space is not the final frontier but it is certainly the next frontier and we ought to be there.

With new electric vehicles (EV) costing the earth, how's the second-hand market looking? In a timely and informative feature, Future Classic magazine reports on a 2012 Nissan Leaf with 100,000 miles on the clock, bought for £3,500. Although it drives well and servicing costs are low, the car's range between charges has dropped by about 30 per cent from new to a mere 60 miles. Pack your hiking boots.

Incidentally, my friend who drove down from Scotland for the New Year and used a 20-year-old petrol car rather than his brand new EV, made allowance for an obvious risk - what if the old car broke down? He calculated that even if he had to call the AA for a roadside repair, it would still be quicker than making a recharging stop.

No-one wants to stand as a parish councillor in the Somerset village of Long Ashton. Candidates are said to be put off by a rule insisting that applications have to be delivered by hand to Weston-super-Mare, 20 miles away. It does seem odd, in this internet age, that papers cannot simply be emailed. On the other hand, if would-be councillors are deterred by such a piffling problem, would they ever be much use?

It's well-known that the writer Fay Weldon invented the advertising slogan: "Go to work on an egg." But only after her recent death was it revealed by some obituary writers that her suggestion for a vodka campaign was rejected: "Vodka gets you drunker quicker." Don't you just love the honesty?

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