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Improvements to the modern airplane may occur as a result of breakthroughs in many fields permitting evolutionary improvements in performance, improved computational capabilities permitting multidisciplinary analysis and design, and use novel ideas to redesign the airplane. Such re-designs may include blended wing body, joined wing, ultra-thin, box-wing, split wing, and novel propulsion/airframe integration. Many of these conceptual designs involve the use of electrical power, either in lieu of or in conjunction with gas. That said, the power provided by kerosene is difficult to match, and since the aerospace industry only consumes 2-3% of all oil produced, it is predicted that airplanes will use kerosene, at least in part, for a while yet.
These new aircraft configurations will not see widespread implementation within the timeframe of concept development to large-scale production (10 years).

NASA asked the three largest U.S. airframe makers to study advanced concepts for next-generation ultra-efficient airliners so quiet they could barely be heard beyond the airport boundary. Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman presented their final reports to NASA’s Environmentally Responsible Aviation (ERA) program. All submitted preferred system concepts that either met, or closely matched, NASA’s stringent noise, emissions and fuel-burn targets for airliners entering service in the late 2020s. Although the fact that each concept scored high marks was not unexpected, it was the array of unanticipated technologies, innovations and system attributes used by the teams that surprised the agency.

In addition to an unconventional flying-wing design from Northrop Grumman, and an innovative Rolls-Royce engine with an extremely large fan powering Lockheed Martin’s box-wing concept, the studies unexpectedly underlined the significant benefits that would accrue from flying advanced airliners within the FAA’s NextGen airspace system, NASA says.

Potential hazard

  1. Technology advances outpacing the development of mitigations for unintended, emerging safety risks (SMS hazard)
  2. Flight and operational capabilities incompatible with current safety risk management methods (SMS hazard)
  3. Unfamiliar flight characteristics and control response
  4. Heterogeneous aircraft flying in common airspace
  5. Unpredictable wake vortex characteristics
  6. Novel stability and control issues, affecting passenger comfort and well-being, depending on how the propulsion system is integrated with lifting surfaces and control effectors.
  7. Novel evacuation issues and delays leading to new rule-making (HOPE: Holistic Operational Passage Evacuation)
  8. Evacuation delays

Corroborating sources and comments

2014 – The VGs on the A320 have a very specific purpose. They reduce noise on final approach by up to 2dB by eliminating two annoying tones caused by air flowing over circular fuel-tank pressure equalization vents under the wing – like blowing across the mouth of a bottle, Lufthansa says. The VG creates a vortex in front of the vent and prevent the noise. Quite clever, actually. Development of the vortex generators by Airbus for the A320 family was the result of research carried out by Lufthansa and German Aerospace Center DLR, the airline says, flyover measurements showing the VGs could eliminate the unpleasant tones and reduce the total noise on approach.

Adaptive wings: NASA Dryden Flight Research Center’s Gulfstream III aerodynamics research test bed aircraft is undergoing modification to support the Adaptive Compliant Trailing Edge project, a joint effort between NASA and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory.

a350 morphing wing:

The A350 XWB will be a more efficient and quieter aircraft as the result of its advanced wing design. Built primarily from carbon composite materials, the wing – which combines aerodynamic enhancements already validated on the A380 with further improvements developed by Airbus engineers – has been thoroughly tested in advance with cutting-edge computer technology and in wind tunnels, optimizing it for fast cruise speeds that reduce trip times, improve overall efficiency and extend the aircraft’s range. By intelligently controlling the A350 XWB wing’s moving surfaces using on-board computer systems, the wing will be “morphed” while airborne – tailoring it for maximum aerodynamic efficiency in the various phases of flight.

2014 – Braced for Change: Saving Fuel with High-Aspect Ratio Wings, Aviation Week and Space Technology, January 27, 2014, pp. 40-42

November 2103 – Folding Wings Will Make Boeing’s Next Airplane More Efficient

A more efficient engine and composite wings that fold up will reduce fuel consumption on Boeing’s 777x. With the 777x, Boeing has opted for longer wings that fold up when the plane is on the ground, shortening the wingspan by just over 6 meters.

Beauty of Airplanes in More than Skin Deep

Future-Airliner Concept Contenders Reveal Design Surprises;

New Vehicle Technology and the Next Generation Airspace System, Jim Smith, Matt Blake, Sensis Corporation

NASA initiated a project to study the impact of advanced vehicles on NextGen

Analyze the impact of new vehicles on a NextGen NAS

Analyze how NextGen enables/impacts new vehicles

Analysis in terms of performance, safety and environmental

Identify gaps in current knowledge and analytical capabilities

February 2013: Airbus Predicts Move To Larger Planes: Says Airlines Want To Lower The Cost-Per-Seat On Existing Routes. An Airbus executive says that the company thinks airlines will begin looking at larger aircraft as they seek to lower their cost-per-seat on existing routes. Airbus’ director for strategic marketing and analysis Andrew Gordon said in an interview in Helsinki that there has been an “upscaling” in the airplanes that are being sold. He told Bloomberg News that the changes are being “driven by existing routes getting bigger as well as airlines lowering their seat costs.” He said the trend is factored into the planemaker’s sales forecasts.

June 2013 FAA NextGen Implementation Plan, p. 42,

Overview of Aircraft Operator Enablers; Aircraft Engine, Airframe and Fuel Technologies:

2014 – Additional Drop-in Aircraft Fuels; ASTM alcohol-to-fuel pathways

2015 – ASTM Standard Pyrolysis

2015 – New Airframe Technologies

2015 – More Efficient Engines (Essentially an overview design doc of some conceptualized aircraft, including supersonic passenger vehicles and blended wing-body models. Could be useful for adding images to the AoC. Note in particular the idea of boxed-wing vehicles.) (The Airbus Concept Plane, while ostensibly similar to current models, uses new technology and design advances, including a U-shaped empennage, to enhance performance. A later source describes their E-Thrust idea, using electric power to augment and supplement the existing gas thrusters on the plane.) (Besides new design and configurations, this post, by an affiliate of the Royal Aeronautics Association, discusses miniaturization and alternative fuel sources.) (Overview of more recent concepts in aviation technology. Good source for multiple areas. Note in particular Project Vahana, an electrically-powered vertical take-off system meant for carrying a single passenger or cargo, and the ESAero, a split-winged design with electric backing.)

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