A trio of advanced aircraft designs, commissioned by NASA, offer a glimpse into the future of flight.
late 2010, NASA awarded contracts to three teams-Lockheed Martin, Northrop
Grumman and Boeing-to study advanced concept designs for aircraft that could
take to the skies in the year 2025. At the time of the award, the team gave NASA
a sneak peek of the particular designs they plan to pursue. Now the space
agency, in the last throes of its space shuttle glory days, is making some of
those designs public.
each design looks very different, the space agency noted all final designs have
to meet NASA's goals for less noise, cleaner exhaust and lower fuel
consumption. "Each aircraft has to be able to do all of those things at
the same time, which requires a complex dance of tradeoffs between all of the
new advanced technologies that will be on these vehicles," NASA documents
stated. "The proposed aircraft will also have to operate safely in a more
modernized air traffic management system."
addition, each design has to fly up to 85 percent of the speed of sound, cover
a range of approximately 7,000 miles, and carry between 50,000 and 100,000
pounds of payload, either passengers or cargo. "For the rest of this year,
each team will be exploring, testing, simulating, keeping and discarding
innovations and technologies to make their design a winner," a NASA
release said, before teasing readers that final designs may still be a long way
also recently sponsored an 18-month effort to visualize the passenger airplanes
of the future. Instead of exotic new designs seemingly borrowed from science
fiction, familiar shapes dominated the pages of advanced concept studies, which
four industry teams completed for NASA's Fundamental Aeronautics Program in
the designs may appear familiar to modern-day air travelers, just beneath the
skin of these concepts lie breakthrough airframe and propulsion technologies
designed to help the commercial aircraft of tomorrow fly significantly quieter,
cleaner and more fuel-efficiently, with more passenger comfort and to more of America's
airports. Shape memory alloys, ceramic or fiber composites, carbon nanotube or
fiber optic cabling, self-healing skin, hybrid electric engines, folding wings,
double fuselages and virtual reality windows are just a few of the far-out
conceptual materials passenger planes in 2035 might embody.
next to the airplane, you may not be able to tell the difference, but the
improvements will be revolutionary," said Richard Wahls, project scientist
for the Fundamental Aeronautics Program's Subsonic Fixed Wing Project at NASA's
Center. "Technological beauty
is more than skin deep."
of the teams, led by General Electric, Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
Northrop Grumman and The Boeing Company, provided "clear paths" for
future technology research and development, said Ruben Del Rosario, principal
investigator for the Subsonic Fixed Wing Project at NASA's Glenn
in Cleveland. "Their reports
will make a difference in planning our research portfolio. We will identify the
common themes in these studies and use them to build a more effective strategy
for the future."