As oil prices escalate and refuse to recede, air fares are becoming pricier by the day. Apart from that, the imminent energy crisis, the problem of climate change and greenhouse emissions, and the issue of sustainability – all are forcing our generation’s innovators to look for greener solutions to our problems, particularly that of gas guzzling transportation.
As far as the air industry is concerned, improving the efficiency of present jetliners, which consume exorbitant amounts of fuel, is the need of the hour, especially if air fares are to be kept within reasonable limits in the future, and especially if all the above challenges are truly to be met.
A team of aeronautical engineers and researchers at MIT are doing just that. Headed by Dr. Mark Drela (under the direction of NASA), the MIT team has come up with entirely new aircraft designs that completely do away with cigar-shaped fuselages, thereby increasing flight efficiency.
For instance, the D-series aircraft (one of the many models that the team is working on) incorporates a ‘double-wide-design’ fuselage and longer thinner wings in order to reduce drag. Special composite materials used for its construction reduce air drag further. The results, obviously, are extraordinary. Although the D-series aircraft is a little slower than some of the present airliners, it consumes 70% less fuel than modern day jets.
In other parts of the world, similar studies are being conducted to make flying cheaper and greener. One such study conducted by Varnvas Serghides, senior lecturer in aerospace vehicle design at Imperial College London, is exploring the use of advanced “fly-by-wire” techniques to modify plane designs for greater efficiency. For instance, in order to reduce drag, one of Dr. Serghides designs completely does away with the vertical and horizontal stabilizers which are situated at the back of traditional jets, greatly reducing fuel consumption.
All these studies, however, are only the beginning. Nonetheless, they are a necessary step forward. Considering the rate at which we are consuming our resources, we won’t be able to sustain our lifestyles if present technologies do not change. And airplanes now are a very big part of our lifestyles, so it is essential that technologies in this sector make the green jump.
Although the entire task seems rather daunting, with such promising studies under way our engineers and scientists will definitely make it. A few years from now we will probably be flying in some cool new weird looking planes. And hopefully, we won’t have to pay much for the tickets.