So today we're looking at the future of fuel-efficient flight. From just-around-the-corner to the far-fetched ridiculous possibilities....and we'll hit them in that order.
Starting with the least far-fetched, because it already exists, is the freaking humongous Airbus A380 Super-Jumbo. When you have to add a modifier to the word “Jumbo” to describe an aircraft, you can assume more than 500 seats... and it might as well have a 2 story fuselage. The A380 saves fuel-per-person by adding more people, not by any innovative efficiency techniques. Nonetheless, it's worth a look.
The Fozzie's engines have moved from the wing to the tail, increasing aerodynamic efficiency, while the low-fuel open-rotor engines also reduce emissions. The Fozzie trades speed for efficiency, but if the flights are cheaper, I don't see anyone minding traveling at a dawdling 450 mph.
Boeing's Honeydew could be considered a blended wing body (discussed a bit later), though the 'delta' wing is less blended than most BWB's, especially as it still contains that efficiency hog, the tail. Tails are hard to get rid of, as aircraft tend to become much less stable without them, but the aerospace industry is working on it.
True Blended Wing Body aircraft do not
have tales and eschew the notion that planes should be tubes with
wings. If the entire aircraft is converted to a wing, efficiency
skyrockets (think Stealth Bomber). But it's hard to fit several
hundred people into a wing (unless it is a very very big wing) so all
of the major aircraft companies are working on planes that blend the
flying wing concept with something that also has enough of a bulge to
house a few hundred people and still be 30% more efficient than traditional planes.
The first flying wings proposed were gigantic, seating more than 800 people, but newer models have been shown to increase efficiency at much more manageable sizes (200 to 500 seats). But the blended wing body still has to overcome dramatic loss of stability and the lack of a tail rudder. Also, it turns out to be much more difficult to pressurize a blended wing body than a traditional tube with wings.
As we border on the ridiculous, I can't help but bring up next generation cargo planes that invariably carry the names of sea-faring creatures. Both the walrus and the pelican promise efficient inter-continental freight-travel, but they have dramatically different designs.
Boeing's Pelican design is a more traditional plane, though it's method of transport is quite peculiar. In order to efficiently carry 1,400 tons of cargo, the pelican actually surfs on a bubble of high pressure air created by it's wings. Of course, to do this, it must fly between 20 and 40 feet above the ocean. Utilizing this 'ground effect' doubles the efficiency of the airplane.
The Walrus, on the other hand, almost completely ignores current ideas of aviation. Basically, it's a blimp with wings. Since the Hindenburg, we've pretty much ignored the possibilities that blimps might provide. By eliminating the need to provide lift, blimps are far more efficient than airplanes, but also generally much slower. The Walrus, being a cargo craft would not really need to travel all that quickly and, as it's capable of bearing a 500-ton load across half the world without refueling, and then landing without a runway, it could be a very convenient cargo transport. Of course, right now only its military applications are being studied. But turning a squadron of these beasts into a shipping fleet could possibly reduce our dependence on highway systems as well as trans-oceanic freight barges.
Last, we must mention the gravity-powered flier. A testament to ingenuity, and the only emissions-free commercial aircraft ever seriously studied. The plane, which we've discussed here before, basically operates as a blimp as it ascends, then, when it reaches its peak, it compresses the helium, and uses the power of gravity to propel it forward.
This would, of course, be a slow process, but nonetheless, an emissions-free aircraft. Someone needs to tell their web designer to remove himself from the early '90's, but you can check out their page here.
Possibly farthest away of all of these airborne transport options is the oblique wing aircraft. While this baby looks weird and may prove to be near-impossible to control, the efficiency of an oblique wing aircraft at super-sonic speeds is believed to be unsurpassed. We won't try to explain why that is, because we have no idea.
The most frequently proposed oblique-wing aircraft is the 'switchblade' bomber that could slowly circle outside enemy territory for days as a traditional flying wing before converting to an oblique wing configuration and striking in its super-sonic mode.
Kinda cool, but pretty lame that we need the bomber excuse to design an aircraft with amazing super-sonic efficiency.
And there we have the next hundred years of aviation. In the next fifty years, planes simply won't look like planes anymore. And then, after that, I suppose they'll start to resemble Muppets, pelicans and switchblades. Until then, those of us who care are just gonna have to skip that trip to Vegas and maybe miss our cousin's wedding.
written by Dude, February 16, 2007
written by bob dobbs, April 19, 2007
written by Carlos Barrera, May 25, 2007
written by chezen suede, August 24, 2007
written by SpiceWorld, December 02, 2007
written by eeky geeky, April 13, 2008
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