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SEP. 09, 2022

Shaping a cleaner future for airplanes

The most efficient and least polluting aircraft designs are all based on the traditional shape in which passengers are housed in the fuselage and the wings support the engines and contain the fuel. However, there are also innovative ideas, some in an advanced stage of development, which propose profound variations to this classic scheme, with the aim of obtaining aerodynamic advantages, lower fuel consumption and higher autonomy.

One of the most debated projects is Flying V, formulated by Justus Benad at the time student of the Technical University of Berlin and intern at Airbus. Benad had conceived an aircraft without a fuselage, with large and very pronounced V-shaped wings to fit passengers. The concept immediately showed interesting potential and was developed into a prototype by the Dutch University of Delft. The flying V was born to create an airplane similar in capacity to the Airbus A350, of which it replicates the number of passengers, 314, and the wing width of 65 meters.

The height is also similar, so the same airport facilities suitable for other airliners can be used. Nevertheless, the overall aircraft is much shorter, has less mass and offers less air resistance than the A350, with much lower fuel consumption to cover the same distances. The first test flights in 2014 proved to be very promising, to the point that the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering of the University of Delft decided to start a project for the development of the Flying V. A revised version was born with potential to reduce fuel consumption by 20% compared to a traditional aircraft. In October 2020, a scale model successfully completed its first flight.

Meanwhile in the United States, NASA and Boeing are working on another passenger plane project, defined as a Truss-Braced Wing. In appearance, the aircraft is similar to a classic Boeing 737, but its wide wing is much narrower than a traditional aircraft and is sustained by two brackets attached to the underside of the fuselage. According to the designers, the reduction in consumption with this configuration can reach 10% compared to an airliner.

Electric-powered planes are also appearing on the horizon. For instance the X-57 of the American Maxwell, also under development at NASA, which completed tests of its electric motors only last July. The propeller-driven aircraft carries four people, with operating costs nearly 70% lower than a conventional fuel-like aircraft and without noise and emissions. However, electric technology is only possible on small planes for the moment as batteries are too heavy in weight to fully power engines. Despite these limitations, research in the sector is experiencing great traction and is developing along two segments: hybrid engines and newly designed batteries.

Latest looming revolution is from tiltrotors, in other words vertical take-off planes, also called air taxis. There are many in development, some even able to travel on ground roads and then take off from an airfield. The Italian Leonardo has developed the AW609, already on the market, capable of a freight of over 2,500 kg. The spread of such means could completely transform the way of flying, as it would also operate urban routes or transfers from airports, where passengers arrive with traditional flights to cities.

We thank you for your continued support.

The FAM team