Back to the future in search of environmental performance

Environmental Technology

The search for the environmentally perfect aircraft will continue for some time – just as all industries should be challenging themselves to improve their equipment and products. While alternative fuels and possibly even solar and battery power offer the best prospects for a carbon neutral aircraft, what’s the best shape for an environmentally-friendly airliner?

Eventually, one whose flying surfaces can bend and adapt to the different stages of flight to minimise drag - and a morphing wings is a concept NASA is flight testing this year. But what should the essential shape of the aircraft be?

It’s hard to get away from the idea of the flying wing, providing lift through every millimetre of its structure. NASA and Boeing have recently concluded part of their research work on the Blended Wing Body aircraft and, for the moment, these remain concept aircraft.

There are a few challenges that will need to be overcome, including the internal seating configuration (some passengers will not be able to see windows – a comfort factor for many fliers; with some passengers being very far from the centre of the aircraft, they may experience an uncomfortable ride; and, importantly, these very wide aircraft may not fit at current airport gates). But with a significant fuel and CO2 saving (not to mention noise reduction), the issues can surely be overcome.

After all, this is not a new concept – the stealth B-2 bomber aircraft is essentially a flying wing (albeit on a much smaller and meaner scale than a passenger version) and looking through the fascinating PaleoFuture blog, it seems that a passenger version was on the cards at Northrop some time ago…