Why The Basic Fuselage Model Has Never Changed

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?

MAVERIC
Why are all aircraft flying today simple tubes with wings?. Photo: Airbus

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%.

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MAVERIC cabin
Plenty of room for activities inside a blended wing aircraft. Photo: Airbus

But the blended wing concept is not actually the only one that has been proposed. There is also the ‘Flying V’ design.

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Flying V
The flying V design by KLM. Photo: KLM

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

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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.

aircraft concepts
The D8 Widebody. Photo: NASA

“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.

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High Mile Club

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Gary

Wander how these blended wing design would go if it had to land on water.
If something happened and it had to crash.
With the engines on top it would be less trouble than engines under the wing.
Could even make it to float with a big flat belly.
May even be better when coming in on a wheels up landing as well.
Same with that double tube design as well.

Dominickmurphy

To be cutting edge, you need to be bold and be visionary. I’d definitely fly on them, no matter the risks. Heck I’d join a team or design my own! #boeing

Jim

If Airbus built it I’d fly it !!

Braniff

British Aerospace built a high-wing four-engine jetliner called the BAe 146. That was an obvious exception to the rule of the same basic fuselage model–with the wing overhead instead of below the fuselage: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Aerospace_146

Ray Powell

There has been a number of different engine mounting points been tried over the years.
Tail mounted 2/4 engines, i.e. MD80’s and VC10.
Above and to the rear on the wing – VFW 614 and the Hondajet.
Then there are the experimental airframes – Nasa QSRA 4 engine above and forward of the wing, and
the An-74 2 engine above and forward.
Built into the wing – Comet and the Vulcan.
3 engine tail mounted – Trident, B727
etc, etc.

Barend de Klerk

Blended wings are just stupid.

These designs are huge and have massive spans. A 737 in a turn has the wing tip move up and down around 26m. Imagine you sitting in a aircraft and you move up and down that much! Everyone will be sick after 10min

Erik

That is an incredibly good point! on take off the folks in the middle of the plane would all of a sudden be looking at the feet of the folks in the window seats!

Kai smith

Great point! Also keep in mind that these things will take up a lot of space on the ground!

Gerry S

Interesting!

Kai smith

Blended wings designs are stupid in my opinion! The amount of space they would take up on the ground would piss off any airport! Also imagine how hard it would be to board one of testers things with all this aisles in between. Also the lack on windows would lead to a lot of air sickness..

William

Some US company is developing a a pure cargo aircraft that made no compromises for carrying passengers. It’s a flying wing type and allows standard shipping containers (as used on trucks and ships) to be hoisted into the aircraft. Without passengers there is no need to plan for floors, windows etc and the maker can be adventurous with decarbonisation by introducing hydrogen. It will allow easy transport of containers by ship to harbour than transfer to the airport by truck or rail followed by flight inland. For instance a shipping container might travel by Rail from Detroit to New York… Read more »

Martin Dellow

About the new blended designs….the designers are the ultimate authority together with the factory building the aircraft…..If they fly and perform better , then the authorities merely must test and approve! The Max737 debacle was a good example…the authority only reacted after a number of crashes!! But in the end Boeing sorted out the problems!! Go for Blend…….