NASA has demonstrated a way to build “hybrid wing” aeroplanes that dramatically reduce fuel consumption, Kevin Bullis of MIT Technology Review reports.The blended wing body (BWB) design, combined with the super-efficient ultra-high bypass ratio engine, could use half as much fuel as conventional aircraft.
Program manager Fay Collier estimates that the BWB — which lowers the weight of the aircraft’s structure by 25 per cent — could help improve conventional commercial aircraft within eight to 10 years.
Bullis notes that while aerospace engineers have long been looking for an alternative to conventional aeroplanes, tubular bodies on aircrafts have persisted because they can withstand outside forces acting on them during flight while maintaining cabin pressure.
The new hybrid design has a flatter, box-like body that blends with the wings. The challenge is to build it in a way so that it’s strong, and light enough to be practical.
Tests have confirmed that sections of the BWB can withstand the forces that would be applied to a finished aircraft. Now Collier’s team is building a 30-foot-wide, two-level pressurised structure (to be finished in 2015) to validate the manufacturing technique.
NASA says that this type of aircraft, which would have a wingspan slightly greater than a Boeing 747, could operate from existing airport terminals.
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