NASA is looking for something more like saving commercial aviation as we know it

For some time now, the anguish of the airlines is not limited to the profitability of the routes, the marketing strategies or the search for more welcoming planes. To all these aspects is added another, important one that has already entered the public debate: its environmental footprint. And it is not a minor concern. France wants to eliminate short flights, those that can be reasonably replaced with rail routes, in search of a more sustainable model and right here, in Spain, the employers wanted to go ahead, warning that a similar measure would be “a shot in the foot” for the damage it would generate to tourism.

Different options in an attempt to reduce its emissions raises the sector. And it is in this effort that Boeing and NASA have decided to take a fundamental step.
Join forces for a common purpose. Basically NASA and Boeing is what they have decided to do, they will work together with a great purpose “Build, test and fly a full-scale demonstration aircraft and validate technologies aimed at reducing emissions.” All with a remarkable investment. In addition to its experience and facilities, over 7 years the agency will allocate 425 million dollars. The multinational and its partners, 725.

Explains Bill Nelson, NASA administrator, the goal is to perfect and test a prototype that will help “in the future, commercial aircraft be more efficient in fuel consumption, with benefits for the environment, the aviation industry, aviation and commercial and passengers”.

A proposal with a broader context. Clearly, the initiative is interesting, but it is part of a much broader and more general framework in the sector: the search for greater efficiency in aviation that reduces its polluting footprint. NASA and Boeing have decided to focus on design, but other companies have bet on electric planes, hydrogen, special coatings inspired by shark skin that reduce friction and other variations on design that seek exactly the same, plus efficiency.

Other methods focus on offsetting emissions, a formula that is not incompatible with the commitment to solutions such as sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). Airbus recently proposed, for example, the use of fans to filter CO2 from the air and then store it “safely and permanently” in geological repositories. The purpose, once again: to reduce an environmental impact that, as has been seen in France, can have immediate effects for the sector.

What are Boeing and NASA looking for? His point centers on narrow-body aircraft, also known as “single-aisle” or directly as regional airliner. And it is so, notes the agency because its intensive use leads them to produce almost half of the emissions attributable to aviation. What NASA and Boeing propose is to facilitate a new generation of these aircraft, more sustainable.

“The goal is that the technology used in the aircraft, combined with other advances in propulsion systems, materials and systems architecture, reduce fuel consumption and emissions by up to 30% compared to the most efficient single-aisle aircraft, depending on the mission,” reports the agency.

When the key is in the wings. What they have put on the table is a proposal that Boeing and NASA have been working on for some time: the Transonic Truss-Braced Wing (TTBW), an aircraft that would stand out for its thin, long, and braced wings. Diagonal struts are used to stabilize them. The design makes the ship lighter and has less air resistance, which in turn results in less fuel burning. Specifically, and according to the data provided by NASA in 2022, it would consume between 8 and 10% less than an airplane that used similar technology with a traditional wing design.

NASA and Boeing have been studying how to improve the design for some time now. In 2019, for example, the company announced an improvement in the TTBW that allowed aircraft to reach higher altitudes and higher speeds during their operations. From end to end, the ultralight wings of the ship then measured 51.8 meters, a span that was achieved thanks to special armor.

For the flight tests. Boeing points out that it will develop and lead the flight tests of a TTBW aircraft to show its possibilities. “When combined with expected advances in propulsion systems, materials, and systems architecture, a single-aisle aircraft with a TTBW configuration could reduce fuel consumption and emissions by up to 30%,” highlights the statement. American company, which recalls that the TTBW fuselage concept responds to more than a decade of work.

And the calendar? NASA’s investment will last 7 years. The schedule that has advanced foresees that the tests of the project will be completed by the end of this decade so that the technologies and designs resulting from the project can provide the industry in the development of the next generation of regional aircraft, already facing the 2030. Against the backdrop, recalls NASA’s Bob Pearce, is the goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

This same week that Boeing would already be studying whether it could incorporate the new plane that it is developing in the company of NASA into its fleet. Its size, abound, could make it a successor to the 737 Max, an aircraft between 110 and almost 150 feet long and with a wingspan of 115 feet.

Published by Cartagena Herald, news and information agency.

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