MIT Delivers Green Airplane Designs to NASA

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, working in conjunction with Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation and Pratt & Whitney recently presented two designs for greener airplanes to NASA. The result of a contract awarded in 2008, the planes were designed to replace Boeing 737 and Boeing 777 models, two of the most widely used aircraft in commercial aviation today.
 The D Series replacement for the Boeing 737. (Source: MIT/Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation)
The D Series replacement for the Boeing 737. (Source: MIT/Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation)

The D series airplane (known as the Double Bubble) was designed to replace the Boeing 737. The new plane should reduce fuel consumption by approximately 70 percent while also reducing noise and nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions. Instead of the standard “tube and wing” configuration used by nearly every plane design to date, this craft uses two half cylinders joined together to create a wider, flatter structure than we’re used to seeing. In addition, the engines are located behind the fuselage instead of on the wings to take advantage of the slower air found there to increase the thrust generated by the fuel. However, this technique adds stress to the engines, requiring a decrease in speed (the D series should fly approximately 10 percent slower than 737s fly).

The H series airplane was designed to replace the Boeing 777. It currently reduces fuel consumption by around 50 percent, also leveraging engines behind the fuselage. With a capacity of 350 people, this plane is significantly larger and needs a different design to accommodate the larger size. The team decided on a triangular shaped aircraft with larger dependence on wings and a wider fuselage.

NASA accepted six groups of designs for this stage of its design contract. Only two of the six will be moved forward to the next phase of design (scheduled to begin in 2011). Extensive design and testing phases are scheduled with hopes for working aircraft in 2035. The design teams were given specific goals for fuel and emission reduction as well as restrictions imposed by the need to interface with current airport terminals. The MIT designs meet or exceed each of the specific quantitative goals, although they hope for further improvements in both fuel and emission reduction if they move forward in the next stage.

TFOT previously reported on the contract award and very early aircraft design ideas. TFOT has also reported on other green aviation designs and research including the development of smart polymers that can change shape in the air to increase their aerodynamic efficiency, a hydrogen powered airplane designed by Boeing, Air New Zealand tests of powering airplanes with biofuel, and the creation of an X Prize for developing green jet fuel.

Read more about the new aircraft designs in this MIT press release.