Airlines could now realise over $250 billion in savings in the near future following the development of green-related technologies carried out by NASA aeronautics researchers over a six-year period. Those who have been working on the Environmentally Responsible Aviation (ERA) project claim that the new developments could cut airline fuel use in half, reduce pollution by 75% and reduce noise to an eighth of today’s levels.
Commenced in 2009, the goal of the ERA project was to explore the feasibility and risks of inventive vehicle concepts which could reduce aviation’s impact on the environment. The technology developments fell broadly into three categories: airframe technology, vehicle systems integration and propulsion technology. Over $400 million was invested during the six year run, which investigated a number of issues concerning aeronautical maintenance and engineering.
Below is a brief summary of the eight integrated technology demonstrations completed by the ERA researchers:
- Using tiny nozzles blowing air over the surface of an airplanes vertical tail it’s been showed that aircraft could be safely designed with smaller tails, reducing weight and drag.
- A new process has been developed for stitching together sections of lightweight composite materials to create lighter and damage-tolerant structures,
- Morphing wing technology has been tested that allows an aircraft to seamlessly extend its flaps, leaving no drag-inducing gaps for air to flow through,
- The refine in design of a turbine engine’s compressor stage not only proved an improvement in aerodynamic efficiency but also realised a saving of up to 2.5% in fuel burn.
- An advanced fan design on the Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan jet engine could reduce fuel burn by 15% and significantly reduce noise.
- Improving the design on a Pratt & Whitney jet engine combustor showed close to 80% reduction in pollution.
- New design tools were developed to aid engineers in reducing noise from deployed wing flaps and landing gear during take-off and landing.
- Studies were performed to test reduction in fuel burn and noise on a hybrid wing body concept where the wings join the fuselage in a continuous seamless line with the jet engines mounted in top of the aircraft at the rear.
These studies will be stored for future access by the aerospace industry with further discussions around them taking place at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Sci-Tech Conference in San Diego.