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NASA And MIT Flying Into The Green Future

NASA Throws Down Green Flight Gauntlet – MIT Picks It Up

20100528112016-2A Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) team, in what could set the stage for a fundamental shift in commercial aviation, has designed a green airplane. Estimated to use 70% less fuel and produce 75% less emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), than current planes while producing quieter subsonic commercial aircraft. NASA also wanted an aircraft that could take off from shorter runways.

The design was one of two that the team, led by faculty from the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, presented to NASA in April as part of a $2.1 million research contract to develop environmental and performance concepts that will help guide NASA’s aeronautics research over the next 25 years. Known as “N+3” to denote three generations beyond today’s commercial transport fleet, the research program is aimed at identifying key technologies, such as advanced airframe configurations and propulsion systems, that will enable greener airplanes to take flight around 2035.

MIT was the only university to lead one of the six U.S. teams that won contracts from NASA in October 2008. Four teams — led by MIT, Boeing, GE Aviation and Northrop Grumman, respectively — studied concepts for subsonic (slower than the speed of sound) commercial planes, while teams led by Boeing and Lockheed-Martin studied concepts for supersonic (faster than the speed of sound) commercial aircraft. Led by AeroAstro faculty and students, including principal investigator Ed Greitzer, Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the MIT team members include Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation and Pratt & Whitney.

Designing an airplane that could meet NASA’s aggressive criteria while accounting for the changes in air travel in 2035 — when air traffic is expected to double — would require “a radical change,” according to Greitzer. Although automobiles have undergone extensive design changes over the last half-century, “aircraft silhouettes have basically remained the same over the past 50 years,” he said, describing the traditional, easily recognizable “tube-and-wing” structure of an aircraft’s wings and fuselage.

20100528112015-0The MIT team met NASA’s challenge by developing two designs: the 180-passenger D “double bubble” series to replace the Boeing 737 class aircraft, currently used for domestic flights, and the 350 passenger H “hybrid wing body” series to replace the 777 class aircraft now used for international flights.

The engineers conceived of the “double bubble” D series by reconfiguring the tube-and-wing structure. Instead of using a single fuselage cylinder, they used two partial cylinders placed side by side to create a very wide fuselage to provide extra lift. Resulting in a cross-section that resembles two soap bubbles joined together, flying it’s 180 domestic passengers in a coach cabin roomier than that of a Boeing 737-800. They also moved the engines from the usual wing-mounted locations to the rear of the fuselage. Unlike the engines on most transport aircraft that takes in the high-speed, undisturbed air flow, the D-series engines takes in slower moving air that is present in the wake of the fuselage. Known as the Boundary Layer Ingestion (BLI), this technique allows the engines to use less fuel for the same amount of thrust, although the design has several practical drawbacks, such as creating more engine stress.

According to Mark Drela, Professor of Fluid Dynamics and lead designer of the D series, the design mitigates some of the drawbacks of the BLI technique by traveling about 10% slower than a 737. To further reduce the drag and amount of fuel that the plane burns, the D series features longer, skinnier wings and a smaller tail. Independently, each tweak might not amount to much, but the “little 5% changes add up to one big change,” Drela said. Although the plane would travel slightly slower than a 737, he said that some of this time could be recovered because the plane’s wider size should allow for quicker loading and unloading.

Not only does the D series meet NASA’s long-term fuel burn, emissions reduction and runway length objectives, but it could also offer large benefits in the near future because the MIT team designed two versions: a higher technology version with 70% fuel-burn reduction, and a version that could be built with conventional aluminum and current jet technology that would burn 50% less fuel and might be more attractive as a lower risk, near-term alternative.

Carl Burleson, the director of the Federal Aviation Agency’s Office of Environment and Energy, said that in addition to its “really good environmental performance,” the D series is impressive because its bubble design is similar enough to the tube-and-wing structure of current planes that it should be easier to integrate into airport infrastructure than more radical designs. “You have to think about how an airport structure can support it,” he said. “ For some other designs, you could have to fundamentally reshape the gates at airports because the planes are configured so differently.”

20100528112015-1Although the H series utilizes much of the same technology as the D series, including BLI, a larger design is needed for this plane to carry 350 passengers over longer distances and to replace the 777 class aircraft now used for international flights. The MIT team designed a triangular-shaped hybrid wing body aircraft that blends a wider fuselage with the wings for improved aerodynamics. The large center body creates a forward lift that eliminates the need for a tail to balance the aircraft.

The large structure also allows engineers to explore different propulsion architectures for the plane, such as a distributed system of multiple smaller engines. Although the H series meets NASA’s emissions-reduction and runway-length goals, the researchers said they will continue to improve the design to meet more of NASA’s objectives.

The MIT team expects to hear from NASA within the next several months about whether it has been selected for the second phase of the program, which will provide additional funds to one or two of the subsonic teams in 2011 to research and develop the technologies identified during the first phase.

…… as the green future unfolds. News

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No Responses to “NASA And MIT Flying Into The Green Future”

  1. Nicola@SimpleDivorce Says:

    Wow, this is really exciting. Air travel is such a part of life and people just expect to travel fast and easy. I drove over to a friends place the other day, it took about ten minutes and during the drive I realised that once this same pop in that I was doing would have taken a whole day of travel.
    .-= Nicola@SimpleDivorce´s last blog ..Twilight – Marriage- Romance and Divorce =-.

  2. Linda Says:

    Hi Nicola … Yes! and imagine the speed of the future!

  3. jason Says:

    Considering the amount of energy wasted in the commercial aviation industry and the amount of investment developing countries in the Persian gulf region are contributing towards expanding international networks to attract traffic from space limited Europe, the prospect of much mofe efficient aircraft bodes very well. It is this kind of practical work that will enable a significantly more environmental productive lifestyle for future generations without the waste of large scale capitalism and regressive inconvenience of technological stagnation from interventionist government policies in transport production.

  4. Linda Says:

    Hi Jason … We try to strive in sharing the information that is out there and especially ones that will certainly assist the future generations with greener technology!

  5. Katherine Says:

    That’s fascinating! You find some really interesting news stories – I always enjoy reading your posts. I wish I were smart enough to design things that could help the world. Glad there are people out there who can do all this!
    .-= Katherine´s last blog ..Pelican 1- Katherine 0 =-.

  6. Linda Says:

    Hi Katherine…. I wish I was as well. I would patent it, market it, and watch gleefully as the product is used extensively all over the world! 😀

  7. Documentarist Says:

    This was cool! Hope this program will push through for the benefit of our environment and for the safety of our traveler. May God bless this wonderful project.
    .-= Documentarist´s last blog ..NEW LEADERS NEW HOPESNEW CHALLENGES =-.

  8. Linda Says:

    Hi Documentarist …. It really is cool! Just imagine the future with this innovation! Leave it to MIT and NASA and things will get done!!!!

  9. injaynesworld Says:

    What a cool plane. I don’t like to fly, but even I might be tempted to try that one out.

  10. Linda Says:

    Hi Jayne …. It would be a worthwhile trip! 😀

  11. Environment Says:

    Cool story brother.
    I like to come back and study more about your blog info.

    Support Environment and Environment blog.
    .-= Environment´s last blog ..Why Switch Brand Of Your Daily Use Products To Melaleuca =-.

  12. Linda Says:

    Hi Environment … Glad to have you come by and come back again! 😀

  13. Tom And Jerry Games Says:

    Nice post…Thank you for sharing some good things.

  14. Linda Says:

    Hi Tom and Jerry …. Thank you and come back again!

  15. Mike Says:

    This is great news. I was a helicopter pilot for the Army and the amount of fuel we went through as a company was mind boggling. Not to mention commercial jets burning 3000 gallons an hour. Time for a change
    .-= Mike´s last blog ..Youtube to Mp3 converter =-.

  16. Linda Says:

    Hi Mike … Yep! it is time for change and this is the future.

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