Even though 2017 was deemed the safest year in aviation history, that doesn’t mean innovation has come to a halt. With the aircraft industry expecting a seven-fold increase in air traffic by 2050, experts at NASA are looking for ways to make future aircraft burn less fuel, emit fewer harmful emissions, and minimize geographic areas affected by airport noise. Startups are also investing in air travel technology.
Here are a few possibilities for the future of passenger plane design.
Box Wing Design
One possibility that could enter service by 2025 is a box wing design, an advanced vehicle concept proposed by Lockheed Martin. An innovative Rolls Royce Liberty Works Ultra Fan Engine would allow for 5x greater airflow than current engines. The box wing design itself is possible by using non-metallic composite materials and advanced landing gear.
Another possibility in the making is aircrafts powered by electric motors, similar to one in NASA’s X-57 prototype. The smaller electric motors will lower noise levels and operation costs, making it possible to fly closer to residential areas. Some hypothesize that most short flights will be via electric aircraft within the next few decades. Flying “taxis” are also being seen as a viable option because of these electric motors.
“Double Bubble” D8 Series
A research team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has designed an aircraft for domestic flights of 180 passengers that would fly at Mach 0.74. The design was presented to NASA in 2010, and could enter service by 2035. The planes boast a wide fuselage to provide extra lift, a modified tube, and low sweep wing to reduce weight.
Focusing on Speed
Commercial planes are now slower than they were in the past. Some startups are working to combat this issue. Boom Supersonic of Colorado is developing a commercial aircraft that could fly at speeds of Mach 2.2 at a round-trip cost of $5,000. You could feasibly fly from Los Angeles to Sydney in just 6 hours. Japan Airlines is one of the investors for this company.
Blended Wing Body Design
Boeing presented a design to NASA that could enter service in 2025. Similar to the X-48, Boeing’s design blends the aircraft’s wings with the body of the plane. The design and other technologies would improve fuel efficiency while also reducing noise and drag. The only drawback is that people on the plane’s edges could eventually feel dizzy when the aircraft turns.
Exciting things are happening in the world of travel technology. Only time will tell what designs will become mainstream within the next decade.