PARIS — When Marc Newson visited aviation fairs before building his first prototype jet, the Australian designer found it odd that the objects he found most appealing were military planes, missiles and bombs. The design of commercial aircraft, meanwhile, left a lot to be desired.
“It was chillingly weird,” said the 40-year-old Newson, whose design credits include an eclectic assortment of chairs, restaurants, watches and perfume bottles. “It’s strange that this incredible technology has been reduced to that.”
His solution is Kelvin 40, a sleek, silver two-seater plane made of carbon and aluminum, on display at the Cartier Foundation here through May 2. Two years in the making, it is 26 feet long with upturned rear wings. It resembles a space fighter out of the wildest “Star Trek” adventure, or, when considering the smoked glass pod over the cockpit, a submarine that could have belonged to Captain Nemo.
The plane is named after Lord Kelvin, a 19th-century Scottish physicist and a character of the same name in Stanislas Lem’s novel, “Solaris.” (The 40 refers to Newson’s age.)
“I also liked that Kelvin is quite a nerdy name in Australia,” he quipped.
While his invention is certainly an improvement on the classic 727, Newson’s plane is lacking in one critical area — the plane doesn’t fly. But he argued that making Kelvin functional was never foremost in his mind.
“Whether it flies or not is kind of academic,” said Newson, who is known for using curvaceous forms and innovative materials. “You can make a door fly if you put a big enough engine on it.”
Newson’s ulterior motive was to bring a sense of glamour and emotion back to the idea of flying, which he believes has become increasingly banal in recent years.
“In a lot of ways, the most sophisticated technology in aviation seems to have regressed,” he said. “It’s been kept in the hands of a select group of people who have used it to advance militaristic strength. Meanwhile, the rest of the industry seems to have been passed by. Look at Easy Jet [the U.K.-based low-cost airline]. That doesn’t necessarily make you want to fly.”