Fuel-Efficient Airplane Design by MIT uses 70% less fuel
MIT researchers have used a NASA grant to design a plane three generations beyond today’s aircraft that could use 70 percent less fuel by leveraging advanced airframe design and new propulsion systems. The “N+3” airplane would radically reconfigure the standard tube and wing structure used for the last 50 years. The term N+3 refers to three generations beyond today’s planes.
With air travel expected to double by 2035, the N+3 design could provide significant dollar and volume savings in fuel usage, not only lowering costs but also reducing harmful environmental emissions. The MIT team, lead by Professor Ed Greitzer, designed two aircrafts, one that might provide a replacement for the Boeing 737 used for many domestic trips, and another to substitute for the Boeing 777 used for international flights.
The designs are not without some drawbacks, including a 10 percent loss of speed, but the wider body design would allow for faster loading and unloading, and that could offset the loss. The planes also use a technique knows as Boundary Layer Ingestion (BLI), which allows less fuel to be used for the same amount of thrust, but can create more stress on the engine.
Despite the practical considerations, the new designs could be a giant step forward toward solving the growth and sustainability issues faced by the airline industry, and also toward protecting the environment from unwanted emissions.