Statistics reveal that in 2013, airplanes spewed up to 700 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air, and it is estimated that, if left unchecked, this is likely to more than triple by the year 2050. Although many countries make efforts to regulate the emissions of cars and trucks, efforts at regulating the aviation industry have been largely unsuccessful. This is a contentious issue for parties who are monitoring the effect of carbon emissions on climate change, particularly in light of the fact that more people than ever are using airline travel and airfreighting goods around the world becomes more commonplace.
The United Nation’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is tasked with drawing up a plan to regulate the global aviation industry’s greenhouse gas emissions, but reportedly does not anticipate having this finalized before 2020. The European Union’s attempts to impose CO2 emission taxes on airlines flying through European Union airspace was met with a flood of opposition, halting the proposal in its tracks. Recently the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it will be “moving forward with a rulemaking process to propose endangerment and cause or contribute findings regarding aircraft GHG emissions”. ¹
Some airlines are experimenting with biofuels with a measure of success, and this is a potential solution worth pursuing, but airlines need to find ways of burning less of the conventional fuel currently being used. Lighter components in aircraft manufacture, streamlining aircraft designs and developing more efficient engines are ways the aircraft manufacturing industry continues to contribute toward fuel efficiency. By improving routes and timetables, individual airlines can ensure flights are fully utilized and thereby contribute toward fuel efficiency, which from a financial perspective is in their best interests, while at the same time helps in cutting carbon emissions by eliminating under-utilized flights. Surveys of US airlines have shown that the majority are not functioning as efficiently as they could in this regard. It is hoped that the proposed US EPA rules will push airlines to conform to best practices with regard to limiting carbon emissions.
Ever since man first took to the skies in powered aircraft, pilots and aviation engineers have sought to overcome challenges and push perceived boundaries as technology developed. One of the much debated challenges back in the early 1940s was whether it was possible for an aircraft to travel fast enough to break the sound barrier. On October 14, 1947, legendary pilot Chuck Yeager proved it was indeed possible when he pushed the Bell X-1 he was flying to Mach 1.06 (1,100 km/h; 700 mph) going down in history as the first pilot to break the sound barrier.
Nicknamed Glamorous Glennis in honor of Yeager’s wife, the Bell X-1 was built by the Bell Aircraft Company under the direction of a joint supersonic research project run by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the US Army Forces and the US Air Force. The concept for the airplane was developed in 1944 and it was built the following year. The fuselage of the X-1 was shaped like a 0.5-calibre machine gun bullet for stability and the thin wings were designed to reduce drag. As it was only later discovered that the swept-wing design is more efficient for speed, the X-1′s wings were at a 90 degree angle to the fuselage. The pilot was seated inside a confined cockpit in the nose, behind a sloped, framed window, and the airplane was powered by a single XLR-11 engine running on liquid oxygen, alcohol and water.
On the historic sound barrier breaking flight, the supersonic Bell X-1 was drop-launched from a B-29 Superfortress bomber airplane at an altitude of 23,000 feet (7,000 meters), where it quickly climbed to its test altitude of 43,000 feet (13,000 meters) and proceeded to break the sound barrier before landing on a dry lake bed. In recognition of their achievement, the 1948 Collier Trophy was awarded jointly to Larry Bell of Bell Aircraft, Captain Charles “Chuck” Yeager, and John Stack of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics.
As the first in the so-called X-planes, the X-1 set the pattern for future projects, with data collected during its test flights providing essential information for later aircraft designs.