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.
- Technology advances outpacing the development of mitigations for unintended, emerging safety risks (SMS hazard)
- Flight and operational capabilities incompatible with current safety risk management methods (SMS hazard)
- Unfamiliar flight characteristics and control response
- Heterogeneous aircraft flying in common airspace
- Unpredictable wake vortex characteristics
- 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.
- Novel evacuation issues and delays leading to new rule-making (HOPE: Holistic Operational Passage Evacuation)
- Evacuation delays