Future on display at Paris Air Show Many new technologies reach for stars, but some will make it

PARIS - Many of the fanciful technologies and programs unveiled at the Paris Air Show this week won't survive their first contact with the real world of budget cuts and customer demand.

But if history is any guide, at least a handful of the most outlandish technologies on display at the air show these past several days - from suborbital passenger space flights to unmanned helicopters - will eventually become as mundane as in-flight movies.

European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., the parent firm of Airbus, unveiled its Astrium space jet, designed to ferry passengers into the upper reaches of the atmosphere for an exhilarating three minutes of weightlessness.

Each ticket will cost about $250,000, but EADS says it believes the venture can be profitable, and the first rocket plane could take off in 2012.

Perhaps to reinforce its commitment to the final frontier, EADS had a full-size replica of its Ariane 5 rocket on display at the show. The rocket, standing upright, towered over Le Bourget airfield.

Astrium isn't the only name in space tourism, of course.

Virgin Galactic (that name might be a tad ambitious) claims it will begin launching suborbital jaunts next year for the bargain price of $200,000.

A little closer to the ground, dozens of interesting airplane designs were on display, but the huge number of unmanned vehicles was particularly striking.

Besides the now-famous Global Hawks and Predators, there were a variety of intriguing concepts, such as Dassault Aviation's nEUROn, a stealthy, unmanned combat plane that looks a lot like the B-2 stealth bomber.

Unmanned helicopters were also popular.

Northrop Grumman Corp.'s alien-looking MQ-8B Fire Scout was parked on the runway and could be in use by the U.S. Navy as early as next year to conduct surveillance and even be used as a weapons platform.

Another funky-looking aircraft, Fort Worth-based Bell Helicopter Textron Inc.'s V-22 tilt-rotor plane, was notably absent from Paris this week after making a splash at the sister air show in England last year.

That's because the plane is about to graduate from air show curiosity to battlefield deployment, as the first squadron of 10 Ospreys heads to Iraq this fall.

"The Marines are fully engaged getting ready for the deployment," Marine Col. Matthew Mulhern, V-22 program manager, said during a briefing. "It's time to start working and start making the airplane do what it's supposed to do, which is to take Marines to the fight and take special operators wherever they want to go."

Some other unusual items at the show this week included:

*The Versatile, Intelligent, Portable Robot (VIPeR) from Israeli firm Elbit Systems. This backpack-size, two-wheeled bot was patrolling a stage at the show, tracking passers-by and displaying the video on a large screen. It may look like a toy, but the remote-controlled machine is capable of packing a mini-Uzi and a grenade launcher.

*The Micro Air Vehicle from Honeywell Aerospace, another remote-controlled vehicle designed to fit in a backpack. The MAV is designed to fly over a battlefield and spot hidden bombs using infrared sensors. Honeywell said the U.S. military has begun using the tiny helicopters in Iraq.

*CFM International's CFM56-7B engine, which uses biofuel made up of 30 percent vegetable oil. In keeping with the green theme, CFM carpeted its booth with real grass.

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