Have you ever wondered what passenger planes might look like in 2030?
But that hasn’t stopped aerospace firms from exploring radically different plane designs – away from the familiar ‘tube and wing’ shape – that they hope could lead to radically quieter, less fuel-guzzling and more eco-friendly jets.
A research team at NASA – led by aviation experts from General Electric, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northrop Grumman and The Boeing Company – has developed concept designs for green planes of the future that they hope could take flight from 2025.
While the concepts are still on the drawing board, NASA says the research helps to focus where it will invest research dollars over the coming years.
We take a look at 7 advanced aircraft designs from NASA’s research – ranging from greener jets that could replace the workhorse 737 jet to a quieter next-generation Concorde.
Thinking ‘outside the box’
US defence firm, Lockheed Martin doesn’t see why a passenger jet with a ‘box wing design’ can’t work out, especially with the availability of modern lightweight composite materials (used to build the Dreamliner’s airframe).
Its two engines are designed to push the limits of turbofan technology to maximise the plane’s efficiency, the team say, achieving a nearly five times greater flow of air around the engine (compared to through the engine) than current jet engines.
The ‘Green Supersonic machine’
Research continues into ways of quietening the (thunderous) sonic boom that heavily restricted Concorde‘s flight paths and routes.
This concept for a green supersonic plane was developed by the team at Lockheed Martin Corporation with improved aerodynamics in mind.
The team behind it believe they have found a way to lower supersonic boom levels overland, by using an ‘inverted V engine under the wing configuration’, where the engines sit above, instead of below the wings.
A subsonic jet with a ‘boxed wing’
It may not look unusual on the outside, but this artist’s concept of a passenger jet from the team at Lockheed Martin has a radically different wing structure.
The plane’s boxed-or joined-wing configuration (which blends with the engine) is designed to reduce drag and increase fuel efficiency.
It the concept moves off the drawing board, the team say it could enter enter service in 2025.
The next-generation 737?
The D8 “double bubble” concept from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology team marks a radical change in aircraft design.
The 180-seat passenger concept plane is designed to replace the Boeing 737 jet and would serve as a workhorse for domestic flights.
The big change is its very wide fuselage for extra lift (and for a roomier cabin).
The D8 series aircraft also features longer, slimmer wings and a smaller tail to reduce drag and the amount of fuel the plane burns.
Although the D8 would travel slightly slower than a 737, the MIT team say that the jet could make up time due to its wider size, enabling faster loading and unloading. The design certainly gives a new meaning to ‘speedy boarding.’
The 777 of the future?
The Boeing 777 is still the plane of choice for many airlines such as emirates for long-distance flights. But could it one day be replaced by this triangular-shaped H “hybrid wing body” series aircraft?
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has developed this larger, hybrid passenger plane on paper that it says could use 70 percent less fuel than current planes of its size, and dramatically reduce noise and emissions.
On first glance, it looks like a bigger, flatter version of the D8 (above) – but their similar looks aren’t surprising given that both concepts were designed by the same company.
Seating up to 350 passengers, the jet could replace the 777 class aircraft for international flights, the team say.
A 20-seat jet with ‘virtual reality’ windows
The team at GE Aviation came up with this concept for a 20-seat passenger plane, designed to be much lighter and more aerodynamic than similar-sized aircraft currently in service.
Due to its small size, the plane would reduce fuel consumption and noise and enable business jet-like travel between more than 1,300 airports, the team say.
The plane would also feature ultra-quiet turboprop engines, ‘virtual reality’ windows and could fly a range of 800 nautical miles.
It also looks like a toy plane, which we like.
Boeing’s Sugar Volt Concept
Boeing has really spread its wings with this concept aircraft.
SUGAR (Subsonic Ultra Green Aircraft Research) combines gas and battery technology… along with a very wide wingspan.
Its unique features also include an electric battery gas turbine hybrid propulsion system – designed to reduce fuel burn by more than 70 percent, Boeing says.
The plane would carry up to 154 passengers and have a range of 3,500 nautical miles.
Due to its extra long wings, Boeing says hinges could be built into the wing design so that they could be folded when on the ground. Now isn’t that practical?
The future is bright but still far away
Read more on the future of flying by 2075 and the challenges ahead to developing radical plane designs.
We would love to hear your thoughts on these planes and what you would like to see on aircraft in the future. Inspiring or just a pipe dream? Let us know by leaving a comment below.