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NASA Transportation Technology

NASA's Next-Generation Airplane Concepts 120

Posted by timothy
from the well-the-military-industrial-complex's dept.
faisy writes "NASA has taken the wraps off three concept designs for quiet, energy efficient aircraft that could potentially be ready to fly as soon as 2025. The designs come from Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and The Boeing Company. In the final months of 2010, each of these companies won a contract from NASA to research and test their concepts during 2011."
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NASA's Next-Generation Airplane Concepts

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 16, 2011 @01:26AM (#34895048)

    A spamblog with two boring images. Bravo, editors.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Bears against the Seahawks. I'm torn. I'm a Bears fan, but we all want to see a losing team win the Superbowl.

    I now return you to your usual spam fest...

  • /. hm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Konster (252488) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @01:34AM (#34895084)

    I think we are reaching the end of the internet if this is /.worthy.

    • by Ihmhi (1206036)

      It's okay, we just need to flip it upside down to hear the B-Side. Just don't play it backwards for the love of god.

  • by nloop (665733) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @01:38AM (#34895100)

    Seriously, a few poorly rendered concept drawings? There aren't words. There isn't anything to discuss here...

    Timothy, have you been drinking?

    • by wizardforce (1005805) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @02:07AM (#34895210) Journal

      In all seriousness, I wonder how much of it is purposeful. Every time there's a blatant spelling error or TFA is irrelevant, what do we as Slashdotters do? We make a fair number of comments which tends to attract attention/page views. This time, the summary didn't even link to the actual article at NASA; TFA was just a re-hashing (almost copy pasta) of the original. The last time, he managed to misspell Photonic despite it being spelled correctly in the copy/paste of the first few sentences of TFA. So either we have a consistent editing problem or a problem of self interest gone awry.

      • by TheLink (130905)
        Yeah I sometimes suspect all of that is cynical trolling for extra hits/posts. Maybe next time we should tag/comment such a story as "troll" or "spam". Then once that's done, don't bother with the "story".
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 16, 2011 @01:43AM (#34895122)

    You see, by bio-engineering giant birds, and strapping a freight container to the back, we can eliminate the need for pilots.

  • Actual article link (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 16, 2011 @01:44AM (#34895124)

    http://www.nasa.gov/topics/aeronautics/features/flight_2025.html

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Ganthor (1693614)

      The lifting body design (Boeing) has been publicly tested at NASA for a couple of years now. They are even at the stage of scale testing in wind tunnels. The other concepts are .... well concepts as far as I can tell.

      • by sznupi (719324)

        I'm not sure if we can expect something Boeing-like coming to fruition anytime soon. Seems a bit incompatible with installed airport infrastructure or maintenance methods. More than the other concepts.

        • by aaarrrgggh (9205)

          The biggest challenges are really in pressurizing the hull, as you lose the benefits of a cylendrical shape. Maintenance wise, it shouldn't be any worse than a tri-engine design. Loading and unloading could be resolved gracefully.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        They're past wind tunnels. There's flying 20 foot span scale models for developing control laws now.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_X-48

      • by Blakey Rat (99501)

        How the pilot even get in the Northrup concept? Is there an elevator that lowers from the floor of the cockpit? Maybe they have a crane?

        I can't see it used for passenger flight, either:
        "Hey Stewardess, can I go over and talk to my friend?"
        "No, he's in the B pod, this is the A pod."
        "Oh..."

    • by Troll-Under-D'Bridge (1782952) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @05:40AM (#34895748) Journal
      Probably more interesting is the link at the end of the brief article. Clicking on the text "Read About Aircraft Designs for 2035" takes you to a more detailed article on future aircraft [nasa.gov].

      NASA's goals for a 2030-era aircraft, compared with an aircraft entering service today, are:

      A 71-decibel reduction below current Federal Aviation Administration noise standards, which aim to contain objectionable noise within airport boundaries.

      A greater than 75 percent reduction on the International Civil Aviation Organization's Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection Sixth Meeting, or CAEP/6, standard for nitrogen oxide emissions, which aims to improve air quality around airports.

      A greater than 70 percent reduction in fuel burn performance, which could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the cost of air travel. The ability to exploit metroplex concepts that enable optimal use of runways at multiple airports within metropolitan areas, as a means of reducing air traffic congestion and delays.

      There's also an image gallery link for more concept art and some PDF-converted presentations from Boeing, GE, MIT and Northrop Grumman.

      • A greater than 70 percent reduction in fuel burn performance

        A 70% reduction in performance doesn't sound like a good thing.

  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @01:48AM (#34895138)

    A while back I watched a documentary on flying wings and with all the their advantages, they have two major drawbacks. Firstly, we don't have the airport infrastructure to support their form factor. Secondly, passengers would be seated further away from the centerline of the aircraft. That means whenever you're making turns, passengers will experience pronounced pitching. That means more air sickness, discomfort, complaints, etc.

  • I remember design drawings that looked like this in the 1980s.

    • by Reziac (43301) *

      1980s? I was thinking they look more like toy models I had when I was a kid... 50 years ago. Of real planes. Now, ask yourself, why didn't those designs succeed into the present?

  • by Afforess (1310263) <afforess@gmail.com> on Sunday January 16, 2011 @01:59AM (#34895178) Journal
    You mean 2030, after NASA's next budget cut, then 2035 after the prototype is over budget and under-preforms, then 2040 after the project is taken over by new management, 2044 because of a new presidential administration's dislike of NASA, and finally canceled in 2503 for a different presidential administration's bid for re-election, showing that they can cut budgets and save money.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Just looking at the pics, Lockheed wins. It is enough of a departure from the standard to believe they can gain significant efficiency while at the same time it's recognizable enough to current aircraft that it should fit into existing infrastructure without too much issue.

    Can't wait to fly in one in 20 years!

    • by artor3 (1344997) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @02:21AM (#34895252)

      A friend of mine is a aerospace engineer at Lockheed, and about four years ago we were talking about future improvements to airplanes. I don't recall how it came up, but I was wondering how the design could really develop much beyond where it already is... a tube full of people, with wings. He sketched out something almost identical to Lockheed's submission here, and bemoaned the fact that buyers tend to reject out of hand anything they don't immediately recognize. He told me that modern design software makes it possible to design far more efficient planes that would look very different from the ones we now have, but it's difficult (read: impossible) to get anyone to invest in a plan that deviates from the known-good designs that have been working for decades.

      • by Eil (82413)

        He told me that modern design software makes it possible to design far more efficient planes that would look very different from the ones we now have, but it's difficult (read: impossible) to get anyone to invest in a plan that deviates from the known-good designs that have been working for decades.

        The key phrase there is that last one. The last major development in passenger air travel (Concorde) was a technical success, but certainly not a business one and airliners are loathe to invest in anything but tr

        • by w_dragon (1802458)
          Going faster than the speed of sound just doesn't make sense in a consumer aircraft right now. The materials we have take a lot of maintenance due to the strain of the shockwave, you can't break the sound barrier over settled areas, and people won't generally pay that much more for a trans-ocianic flight just to shave off a few hours.
        • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @09:03AM (#34896446) Journal
          Concorde had a lot of problems. Supersonic flight over populated areas tends not to be permitted, so they were only really useful in transoceanic flights. They were very inefficient, so the ticket prices were high. In the '70s, there was a large market or expensive-but-fast flights. Now, they're competing with email, cheap international telephone calls, and video conferencing. Very few businesses can justify double the ticket cost to get to the destination a couple of hours earlier. Or, rather, having a couple of hours less time in the air - the small number of flights meant that if you suddenly had to be on another continent at short notice you could typically get there faster by taking the next flight than by waiting for the next Concorde. With power and Internet connections in business class, most executives could get some work done (or enjoy the champagne in first class) on other commercial flights, so the time in the air was no longer wasted. Add to that, Concorde was really small. Flying first class in Concorde was a lot less comfortable than in something like a 747, and 7 hours in comfort often beat 4 hours in much more cramped conditions for flyers.

          In contrast, a more efficient aircraft has obvious advantages. Even if it's slightly slower, passengers will often pick the cheapest flight even if it's slightly longer. If it's about the same speed, then operators can keep prices the same and make more profits until their competitors try bringing the price down.

      • by jbengt (874751)

        He told me that modern design software makes it possible to design far more efficient planes that would look very different from the ones we now have, but it's difficult (read: impossible) to get anyone to invest in a plan that deviates from the known-good designs that have been working for decades.

        For good (short- medium- and long-term financial) reasons. Any design that is a substantial departure from known-good designs is a big risk for delays, extra costs, or outright failures in development, construction, testing, certification, and operation due to novel factors that are largely unpredictable, no matter how modern the design software is. In order to explore a larger problem space and avoid being trapped in a local optimum, you need an interested neutral player like the government to fund broad

        • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @01:10PM (#34898036) Homepage
          Exactly. Look at the Boeing 787 [youtube.com] - it actually looks pretty 'normal' and the 'only' revolutionary changes have been making it out of composites rather than aluminum. Still it's taking years and billions of dollars extra to get out the hanger. Even factoring out Boeing's brain dead idea to fob out manufacturing to virtually every country on the planet with electricity, it's still quite hard to get even modest changes in extremely complex, extremely expensive systems.
  • According to "Sustainable Energy--- without the hot air," [withouthotair.com] it's pretty much impossible to get anything but small gains in energy efficiency in aircraft.
    • This contest isn't all about energy efficiency, though.

      The other design criteria were low noise and reduced emissions of certain types. I think airspace congestion might also have been included in the weightings?

      Personally I would have thought that the emissions criteria would really be more of an engine design issue rather than aircraft design, but I'm not an aeronautical engineer.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        You can pretty much solve the most egregious problems with aircraft emissions by just not putting terrible additives in the fuel. You can solve the carbon balance by using sustainable feedstocks. The problem is not a lack of ability to improve aircraft emissions today, but a lack of will.

      • If the aircraft is easier to push, less drag, more lift, the engines wouldn't suck down as much fuel resulting in lower emissions. it's a case of everything effects everything.

  • The Lockheed design has a single engine... Which is a bad idea on an airplane. It's good to think to the future, but none of these ideas are practical, and I don't think they're meant to be. Airplanes don't change in leaps and bounds they evolve slowly, building on proven technology and designs. These are just concepts produced because these companies feel they have to show something new and radical in return for taking all of nasa's money.
    • by tibit (1762298)

      The Lockheed design has a single fan. This doesn't imply a single engine (turbine) driving it.

      • by afidel (530433)
        Two words: bird strike
      • by sapphire wyvern (1153271) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @03:26AM (#34895446)

        Actually, I don't think it does.

        Here's [nasa.gov] a larger picture. Notice how the engine is mounted on a fin that does not emerge vertically from the tail of the aircraft. The engine mount comes out of the fuselage at an angle, and then curves up towards the vertical through the space occupied by the engine. If you look at the bottom of the fuselage, you can just make out the edge of a second engine's bluish cowling. It's mounted on the other side, also angled out from the aircraft, but largely obscured by the point of view of the image.

        I don't think they chose a very good camera angle for showing off the concept.

        • If you look at the bottom of the fuselage, you can just make out the edge of a second engine's bluish cowling. It's mounted on the other side, also angled out from the aircraft, but largely obscured by the point of view of the image.

          Thank you, I didn't notice that. Yes, this makes much more sense like that.
          Now I can wrap my head around that rendering too.

          I don't think they chose a very good camera angle for showing off the concept.

          Indeed not. From this angle, it looks more like an Escher drawing than a feasible aircraft.

          • Apparently, the closed wing significantly reduces wingtip vortices, which can account for as much as 50 percent of an aircraft's drag. Here's [airmailmagazine.com] another concept plane using a similar configuration, but shown from a better angle.
        • Lockheed has championed the closed wing idea for many years. Their concepts usually have 2 engines. Here are other images some dating back to the '80s:
          http://aero.stanford.edu/Reports/Nonplanarwings/ClosedSystems.html [stanford.edu]
          http://www.airmailmagazine.com/closed-wing-aircraft-designs [airmailmagazine.com] (4th picture down)
          http://up-ship.com/blog/?p=1986 [up-ship.com]
  • by Super Dave Osbourne (688888) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @02:15AM (#34895226)
    of paper airplanes worthy of this article and also of our tax paying dollars. 1. Fold in half, then open 2. Put paper in palm of open hand (pick one) 3. Crumple paper rigoriously 4. Lean back in rocker and shoot for the downtown shot and swish. 5. Send a bill for 5 million dollars to NASA for a superior design flaw, used paper.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Seriously, the two Boeing models could have come straing from an episode of Thunderbirds.
    I was reminded of that only this week as Jerry Anderson was on the BBC talking about his plans for 'Thunderbirds, the next generation' (or whatever)

    flying/delta wings are so 1950's in concept. Look at the designs from that period.
    Concorde and the Avro Vulcan come to mind. They were not so popular in N. Americal though.

    more Tax Dollars wasted methinks.

  • Much better article (Score:5, Informative)

    by Urza9814 (883915) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @02:49AM (#34895334)

    There's a much better article on this in Cnet, by the excellent Chris Matyszczyk:

    http://news.cnet.com/8301-17852_3-20028638-71.html?tag=mncol;title [cnet.com]

    • by bazorg (911295) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @05:56AM (#34895798) Homepage

      AKA Chris, the Unpronounceable!

      • by mjwx (966435)

        AKA Chris, the Unpronounceable!

        Matt tee sizz ick.

        I think it's the national sport in Poland to try and create a name with the highest number of redundant consonants.

    • by evilviper (135110)

      He makes a few quips about how ugly they are, and then admits he knows nothing about airplanes. How could that POSSIBLY be much better than... ANYTHING?

      I'd love to hear an expert opinion, and see some projected performance stats. Now THAT would be a much better article.

  • by qmaqdk (522323) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @02:58AM (#34895356)

    Those are them nutjobs thinking that the climate is changing [nasa.gov], and that it's our fault [nasa.gov]. Now they want us to fly "energy efficient" airplanes. That's code for socialist airplanes! And they'll probably be serving vegan food on them as well. Don't fall for it!

  • It's a shame Northrop and Boeing don't have resources to pay for their own R&D.

    I've never seen less need for the US govt to step in and fund research. This is the next generation of planes for two established companies in a mature industry. So first these companies get 'paid' by NASA for the R&D, then they'll get paid to build and test prototypes, and things will cycle like that until a new plane design proves out and Northrop and/or Boeing own it, build it, and privatize the profits.
    • by jbengt (874751) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @09:38AM (#34896654)
      The profit motive is very good at making incremental improvements to aircraft and move towards a locally optimal solution. The problem is that capital will never be invested in big changes to aircraft concepts because that is entirely too costly and risky. (If you don't believe me, try to get a simple change to airframe design or materials certified by the FAA and try to estimate the resulting risk of failure with the amortized costs of potentially crashed airplanes full of dead and injured people). So the only way to get beyond a local optimum and try to find a better solution is to fund it from a source that is not tied to medium and long term stockholder value. Of course, it might not be worth it to search for better solutions, but, really, that is unknowable before doing the work.
    • 1. Bemoan loss of US tech edge
      2. Bemoan lack of profits in long term research
      3. Get government to spend taxpayer $$ for research the companies should do for themselves
      4. Use taxpayer paid R&D to develop new products - $$ profit!
      5. Sell new products in China - $$ profit!
      6. China gets all that taxpayer funded R&D to develop their own products, which are cheaper than US made versions
      7. Bemoan loss of US tech edge....

  • by Reed Solomon (897367) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @03:16AM (#34895422) Homepage

    This is hardly next generation. There isn't even a saucer section to separate. Where is the holodeck? This isn't even a galaxy class starship. NASA is so far behind it's going backwards. I bet they don't even do warp 3.

    • by zeroeth (1957660)
      I love how they used the whole Saucer separation thing like twice in the first season.. and then never again until Generations. (Although there may have been some separated when the hundreds of thousands of Enterprises all came into the same time/space)
  • This is starting to look a lot like when the first few pathetic, failure-prone Japanese and European cars came into the American market. Yeah, they sucked. Twenty years later, they'd driven the US auto industry to the verge of bankruptcy.

    So now we have three US aerospace/defense industry companies that are pretty much useless without all that good, old-fashioned American payola putting out three or four concepts that are supposed to leave us all swooning.

    So why do I have the feeling that the rest of t

  • That's one way to deter would-be hijackers: require a wing walk to get to the cockpit.
  • I get that these are quirky designs. Why would we be interested in the bottom one as opposed to say a very long aircraft, possible with a different wing configuration. The middle one appears to be a biplane, effectively. Is this a good idea? Presumably, yes, but why?
    • by Jesus_666 (702802)
      From what I've read the basic idea is that wingtips create an awful lot of drag so if you don't have any wingtips you can greatly reduce drag, making the plane more efficient. The interesting thing is that this concept has held up in wind tunnel tests in the 70s and there are known flying airplanes using it but apparently nobody has been adventurous enough to implement it in a commercial aircraft and bring it to market.
  • The DOD needs a new tanker and ideally, it could use new Continent-to-Continent cargo crafts, as well as a new bomber to fill in for B-52s. Rather than use a 767 or a 320, it would be better for DOD to push the BWB and use it. In particular, with the BWB, it should have a smaller profile, be more fuel efficient and interestingly, be capable of re-fueling 3 aircrafts at one time (each wing and then one underneath). That is very useful for when you send a wing elsewhere.
  • by zeroeth (1957660)
    We could focus on rail infrastructure and reducing ticketing costs there. You could easily cope with demand and capacity efficiently by adding/removing engines and cars as needed.
    • Suppose we did spend the ridiculous amount of money to forcibly purchase enough land by right of eminent domain. (yeah, right!)

      Nobody wants a slow-ass train. How do you make a train go 600 miles per hour? (1000 km per hour) The very fastest and most exotic trains can almost do half of that. Note that this is still going to be slower than a plane because there just isn't a way to do straight point-to-point links for every pair of major cities.

      Never minding the track itself, air friction will be a problem. Th

  • by michelcolman (1208008) on Sunday January 16, 2011 @01:33PM (#34898188)
    You see people trotting down a runway with bird cages on their heads, all kinds of awful colors mixed together, and various body parts showing that maybe shouldn't be showing. Half a year later, the shops are actually selling normal clothes in the general average color of the ones you were shown on the show, with a few accents of the other colors, and no longer showing all those body parts.
    Airplanes are exactly the same.

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