Title text: No, a hydroplane doesn't land on water--that's an aquaplane. A hydroplane is a plane that gets electric power from an onboard water reservoir with a tiny dam and turbines.
Cueball and a man with a hat are out planespotting, or aircraft spotting, a hobby where tracking the movement of aircraft allows plane fans to see as many different types of planes as possible. A knowledgeable spotter would just by the silhouette and maybe the engine sound of the plane be able to tell what type of plane it is, and may be rather proud of the fact, if they can tell this before one of the other spotters.
The plane in the comic is most likely a Bombardier Q400, a twin-engine regional turboprop with a T-tail as depicted.
The man with the hat asks Cueball to identify the airplane flying overhead. Cueball (or Randall qua the caption), who "assumes" he knows a lot about planes gives a long, nonsensical answer, proving that he does not. As mentioned in the caption he never actually checked if what he thought he knew was fact or fiction. As it turns out it is mainly fiction, but of course with some reference to real planes or vehicles. Due to the fact the characters are drawn in silhouette it is impossible to determine whether the character with the hat is Black Hat or White Hat or some other character.
- Boeing: Boeing is a company that designs and builds aircraft, although not the Q400. It is one of the best known aerospace companies in the world, so putting this in front is not a way of displaying any particular knowledge of planes.
- Q404: The reference to Q404 is close to the Q400, which this likely is. 404 also refers to an error shown when a specific internet address or file is not found, or as in this case, the plane is not found!
- Twin-engine: Twin-engine refers to aircraft with two engines, so at least Cueball got that right.
- Quad band: Communication equipment that can use 4 different radio frequency bands is called quad band.
- MiG: MiG is a Russian manufacturer of military aircraft, formerly the Mikoyan-and-Gurevich Design Bureau.
- MIG-380: a type of welding equipment (metal inert gas, 380V). On the other hand A380 is an aircraft developed by Airbus.
- Hybrid: A hybrid vehicle is able to use more than one distinct power source, typically an automobile that uses both a primary combustion engine and a secondary electric system. Boeing is currently working on a concept hybrid plane capable of using both electricity and natural gas.
- Dual wield: Dual wielding is using two weapons, one in each hand. This is completely nonsensical in aviation -- even if we say that a pilot is "wielding" his aircraft, they would not personally wield two planes at once without remote controls for at least one, and it is equally ridiculous to imagine that the plane is dual-wielding anything.
- Mk.: "Mk." (or Mark) is usually used to specify a model number using a Roman numeral. "Mk" is also phonetically close to Mach, a multiple of the speed of sound, often used to describe the speed of supersonic aircraft.
- IVII : IVII is not a standard number in the Roman numeral system, under standard rules it would be written like VI = 6. On the other hand, it could be a mishmash way of writing "42", (IV = 4, II = 2) which could then make it a reference to The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything according to Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, something referenced before in xkcd, for instance in 1608: Hoverboard if you got 42 coins. The correct way to say 42 in Roman numerals is XLII. The number could also be MI, or 1001, but this is unlikely. Another possibility for if IVII references a number is under vinculum, if a barline was put over IV, then IVII could reference 4002. If IVII doesn't reference a number, it could reference the II-VI semiconductor manufacturer, which could be related to planes, although the order is slightly different in II-VI, and there is a hyphen because the name is pronounced "two-six." There was also a real plane called Dassault Mirage IIIV, where the V stood for "vertical", though again the order here is different.
- Turbodiesel: Diesel engines are only rarely used in aircraft because of their low power-to-weight ratio. Turbo-diesel engines are much more common in cars and trucks. A Turboprop is a kind of aircraft turbine engine that sacrifices exhaust thrust for shaft drive.
- 797: The Boeing 797 has never been produced, but a hoax design has been circulating the Internet since the mid-2000's.
- Hydroplane: A hydroplane either refers to aquaplaning, a very undesirable activity of a wheeled vehicle crossing shallow water, or a type of boat for which hydroplaning is the desired mode of travel. The correct name for planes which can land on water is seaplane (US) or floatplane (UK), however the term hydroplane had been used in this meaning in the past; also in many languages such aircraft are named hydro (or some spelling variant of this Greek prefix) + whatever stands for plane, e.g. in Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, French, Czech, Slovak, Russian and others.
In the title text the concept of hydroplane is mixed up with other concepts, none of which has anything to do with airplanes:
- Aquaplane: An aquaplane is a similar to a short surfboard, on which a person stands while the board is pulled by a speedboat. As noted with Hydroplane above, the term aquaplane is also used as a verb to describe the loss of traction of a wheeled vehicle at speed on a surface covered in shallow water. The correct name for a plane that lands on water (on purpose) is a seaplane.
- Dam and turbines: Powering an aircraft with a miniature hydroelectric dam connected to an on-board reservoir is an absurdity. Hydroelectric plants derive power from the potential energy released by a mass of water as it falls. Because the plane is lifting the water reservoir in addition to its own weight, such a dam could never produce enough power. Ludicrously small hydroelectric power systems were previously considered in what if? "Faucet Power". In 2008, Randall discussed the more reasonable physics problem of whether an airplane would be capable of flight from a treadmill.
Only three weeks prior to this comic, 1660: Captain Speaking was released only with a drawing of a plane in the air, where the captain eventually finds out that his plane is probably a Boeing. Planespotting was later a part of 1910: Sky Spotters.
- [Cueball and a man with a hat is seen in silhouette standing on the ground looking towards the sky. A fixed wing aircraft can be seen in the sky, also in silhouette.]
- Man with hat: What's That Airplane?
- Cueball:Oh, that's a Boeing Q404 twin-engine quad-band MIG-380 hybrid dual-wield Mk. IVII Turbodiesel 797 Hydroplane.
- [Caption below the panel:]
- I've always assumed I'm one of those people who knows a lot about planes, but I've never actually checked.
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