When you imagine an airplane, you think of a long narrow aircraft, mounted on top of wings with engines underneath. This design has been unchanged ever since aircraft came into widespread use at the turn of the last century. However, why was no other aircraft concept successful? Why has the ‘long-tube’ lasted as long?
What other designs are there?
Now, we should at first touch base as to what other designs there are in the world.
The first to mention is the blended wing design. This has recently gained recognition after Airbus recently revealed a new concept aircraft at the Singapore Air Show. The MAVERIC incorporates the wing into the main fuselage and allows airlines to make use of far more onboard space, as well as reducing overall drag and fuel consumption by 20%.
But the blended wing concept is not actually the only one that has been proposed. There is also the ‘Flying V’ design.
This aircraft is similar to the blended wing design but actually where the fuselage splits to become the wings. This means that aircraft can have the advantage of being much shorter but still maintain the same wing-span and interior space. In addition, the design will massively reduce air resistance and save on fuel consumption.
“The aircraft’s v-shaped design will integrate the passenger cabin, the cargo hold and the fuel tanks in the wings. Its improved aerodynamic shape and reduced weight will mean it uses 20% less fuel than the Airbus A350, today’s most advanced aircraft.” – KLM press release
There have also been other designs like the Aurora D8 Widebody (and this is a true widebody plane!). Essentially this aircraft is a double fuselage, with two tubes stacked next to each other and connected through the middle.
“Based on a modified tube and wing with a very wide fuselage to provide extra lift, its low sweep wing reduces drag and weight; the embedded engines sit aft of the wings. The D8 series aircraft would be used for domestic flights and is designed to fly at Mach 0.74 carrying 180 passengers 3,000 nautical miles in a coach cabin roomier than that of a Boeing 737-800.” – NASA
So with so many fantastic different designs, why don’t we have them all flying today? Why do we only have one ‘real’ type of commercial aircraft?
Why we only use one design for modern aircraft
There are a few reasons why we are still using the tried and true design:
- Safety perception – We know that this classic aircraft design works and is safe. A new design requires to not only pass extensive certification processes but also to earn the public trust. Ask yourself, would you fly on a blended wing design? Or would you be nervous on flying onboard a new ‘type’ of aircraft that has not been ‘proven’ with decades of use? An airframe builder will need to win over the public, airlines and the regulators.
- Cost – When the A330neo was created from the A330, it cost Airbus $2 billion USD. Boeing, when they created the 787, spent $32 billion USD in development. A brand new aircraft design would cost hundreds of billions of dollars to make and bring to market, a risk manufacturers may not be prepared to take.
So if airframers are not willing to challenge perception or pay the cost, why do they keep coming up with ‘zany’ concepts?
Well not only do these research products develop fruit that can be put into their mainline aircraft designs but also that they now get the perception from customers that their products are cutting edge. After all, if they are able to create a new design that reduced 20% drag you know their flagship products will also feature similar technologies down the line.
What do you think? Let us know in the comments.