To say the world’s commercial airline fleet is half a century old wouldn’t be true. To say the basic design of our commercial airliners—cylindrical fuselage, wings, tail, jet engine—is about that old would be true.
The rise in fuel costs and general global trend towards greener technologies have researchers and the airline industry looking at new, more efficient designs that could fundamentally change how airliners look and fly—with better lift, cleaner and quieter propulsion, and advanced electronics.
The advanced electronics thing is already underway, with the industry incrementally improving electronics (under the skin stuff) over the years. But now it’s the turn of design and propulsion, among other things.
NASA’s Subsonic Fixed Wing Project is a player in the game. NASA’s website says the project’s 10-year strategy includes developing:
· Better design models, or “improved prediction methods and technologies for lower noise, lower emissions and higher performance for subsonic aircraft” in scientist-speak;
· Cleaner engines incorporating “emissions reduction technologies (with emphasis on NOx reduction), alternative fuels and particulate measurement methods;” and
· Better performing designs with “lightweight, multifunctional and durable structural components, high-lift aerodynamics and [more efficient] engines with efficient power plants.”
Working with NASA on the project are some industry heavies, including “Boeing, GE, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Pratt & Whitney, as well as academic institutions such as [the] Massachusetts Institute of Technology,” said the BBC.
“We’re looking to see if we can develop technologies that can get us yet another 60 to 70% improvement in fuel efficiency” along with 71-decibel noise reductions and an 80% drop in NOx emissions, NASA aerodynamicist Rich Wahls told the BBC.
But how? Stay tuned for Like a Bird’s Wing…