MIT-Designed Planes Aim for 70% Fuel Reduction

With possible fuel shortages in the future being a very real cause for concern, coupled with dire observations on the damage fossil fuels are doing to our environment on a world-wide scale right now, much emphasis is being placed on developing alternative, ‘green’ energy sources, as well as finding ways to use the fuel we have in the most efficient way possible. In a project that forms part of a $2.1 million NASA grant, a team led by researchers from MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics have come up with designs for commercial aircraft that will use up to 70 percent less fuel than airliners are currently using, while at the same time reducing noise and nitrogen oxide emissions. Referred to as an ‘N+3’ airplane, denoting three generations from now, its design will incorporate new technologies, such as advanced propulsion systems and innovative airframe configurations, in order to cut back drastically on fuel consumption.

Two designs have been developed by the MIT team: Model D 180-passenger series, which would replace the current Boeing 737 class of aircraft aimed at domestic flights; and the Model H 350-passenger series to replace the Boeing 777 class of aircraft used for international flights. Referred to as the ‘double bubble’ series, the Model D could burn around 50 percent less fuel than the current 737, however, using advanced technology and materials, fuel savings could be as high as 70 percent. Further beneficial features will be the use of bio-fuels as opposed to fossil-fuels, and a slimmer wing design along with a smaller tail resulting in reduced drag.

As the larger of the two models, the Model H makes use of a triangular-shaped hybrid wing body, creating a forward lift and eliminating the need for a tail to balance the airliner, thereby reducing drag. It is calculated that the Model H will also meet the 70 percent fuel reduction target set by NASA, with a reduction of 75 percent in nitrogen oxide emissions. Upon NASA’s approval of the project thus far, researchers will move ahead with the goal of having the new designs in commercial service by 2035, in an effort to meet increasing air travel demands.