The launch of the Boeing 787 marks the first commercial jet produced with efficiency specifically in mind. Now, this might not be because Boeing has a crush on Mother Earth, but it's good that airlines are demanding efficiency, even if it is only because fuel prices have skyrocketed.
But the 787 Dreamliner still leaves a lot of room for improvement. Several designs are at various stages of production that could make air travel as efficient, or even more efficient, than automobiles.
We're going to go in order from slightly odd to absolutely ridiculous...
1. Advanced materials
The 787 has this in spades, and we commend Boeing for adopting carbon composites to make it's planes stronger, more efficient, and less polluting. In the future, these composite materials will continue to get stronger and lighter, and flight will continue to get cleaner and greener.
2. Abolish First Class
Airbus' Super Jumbo A380 is relatively efficient per passenger mile simply because it can fit SO MANY people on it. In three-class configuration, the A380 can hold 555 passengers. But if the entire plane is set up in economy class, as may be the case in some pooorer markets, the plane can hold 853 passengers. Just by removing the remnants of class-society from an airplane we get a 35% increase in efficiency per passenger mile!
3. The Open Rotor
While the A380 and the 787 have much more efficient engines than their predecessors, there remains another jet engine that is even more efficient than "turbo-fan" engines. The Open Rotor engine basically places the blades of the jet engine outside the casing. The engine mixes the efficiency of turbo-propeller engines with the power of jet engines. Two factors have kept this off of airliners in the past. First, they are too large to be mounted under-wing. Second, they are not as powerful as jet engines, and so flight speeds would be lower. However, with rising fuel prices, airlines are expecting to see open-rotor jet engines on planes soon.
4. Tail Mounted Engines
Open Rotor engines cannot be mounted under-wing, but the can be tail-mounted. Mounting engines on the tail provides the extra benefit of having the wings be entirely clear of everything except "lift generating surfaces." Wing-mounted engines decrease lift and interfere with aerodynamics, so tail mounted engines automatically increase efficiency.
5. Flying Wings
Increasing the amount of "lifting surfaces" on a plane is always a good thing. This is what the Air Force was thinking when they designed the B2 bomber. The plane is, in fact, composed entirely of lifting surfaces. The plane, thus, needs less power to stay aloft, and so can fly much further on a tank of gas. This was important for the B2 so it could fly thousands of miles to deliver a payload. It's important for airlines because less fuel means more profit. Unfortunately, flying wings lack the stabilizationof tails, and they have to be extremely large to fit many people in them.
6. Blended Wing Bodies
In order to overcome the shortcomings of flying wings, engineers have developed the "Blended Wing Body." The plane is still largely composed of lifting surfaces, but with a bulge in the middle to accommodate passengers, and various sorts of stabilizers to keep them all from losing their lunch. As additional benefit, the engines would be mounted above the plane's body, thus shielding the ground from engine noise.
7. Standing Seats
Airbus was playing around with this idea a while back for less developed markets. You'll never see this happening on American flights, but standing seats could allow for so many more people to be 'stored' in an airplane that prices would plummet and efficiency per passenger mile would skyrocket. That doesn't mean I would ever fly on a 'standing room only' flight. But would make flight nearly as efficient as car travel.
I know, now you KNOW I'm crazy. But, seriously, I think airships deserve a second chance. They do not require any energy to keep them aloft, and while they travel at a fraction of the speed of airplanes, they can move significantly faster than cars, up to 150 mph, without having to follow roads. Depending on their size, a modern airship could be significantly more energy efficient than even a Greyhound bus (currently the most efficient way to travel long distances.) They do have some problems, for example, they have a hard time flying over the Rocky Mountains, or the Alps, but they more than make up for it with amenities. One planned airship has enough space for 1,000 people to sit comfortably on a lower deck, while an upper deck would sport tennis courts and a movie theater for first-class passengers.
9. Personal Air Vehicles:
While super-jumbo jets get more and more efficient as they get bigger, there is something to be said for tiny airplanes as well. By sacrificing speed and comfort for efficiency, small airplanes could easy get fifty miles the gallon while avoiding traffic and cutting corners "as the crow flies." Indeed, it's possible that personal air travel could be considerably more efficient than personal ground travel!
A System of Buses in the Sky?
written by Derek C. Wallace, July 27, 2007
Thanks for mentioning airships
written by Airshipworld, July 28, 2007
bring on the blimps!
written by makewealthhistory, August 01, 2007
We are not communists!
written by club penguin, May 19, 2009
written by skin moles, January 04, 2011
written by husky training, February 18, 2011
written by husky training, March 20, 2011
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