Aircraft technology sure has come a long way over the years. Planes are able to fly longer distances more fuel efficiently than ever before, and that’s awesome.
But fundamentally we haven’t actually seen any radical design changes to commercial planes, at least aesthetically. Like, the wings are next to the fuselage, and the engines are typically on the wings (back in the day three engine planes often had an engine on top of the fuselage, but that’s not the case anymore for any major planes in production).
While we’ve seen all kinds of crazy prototypes over the years of what planes could look like in the future, my assumption is typically that they’re made by 11 year old aviation geeks in Paint, without much thought put into the science.
Well, one airline is backing a radically different aircraft design, which I can’t help but share here.
The “Flying V” concept
TU Delft in the Netherlands is working on a “Flying V” concept, and KLM is providing support (including financing) for this project.
The intention is that this radically new aircraft design would be highly energy efficient and be able to operate ultra long haul flights. As you can see, the aircraft’s design integrates the passenger cabin, cargo hold, and fuel tank, into the wings, which is what creates the shape.
The plane could carry 314 passengers, and they say that this design would use 20% less fuel than the Airbus A350, which is otherwise one of the most efficient planes out there.
Here’s a short video about the concept:
The plane would be 55 meters long and have a wingspan of 65 meters. So the wingspan would be the same as the A350, while the plane would be significantly shorter.
Because of this, they say the plane could use the same infrastructure at airports, including gates, runways, and hangars.
A small prototype is expected to fly in October 2019, though that will be just a tiny scale model of what the full plane would look like.
Dr. Roelof Vos, project leader at TU Delft, had the following to say:
“The Flying-V is smaller than the A350 and has less inflow surface area compared to the available amount of volume. The result is less resistance. That means the Flying-V needs less fuel for the same distance.”
Could we ever see this plane flying?
Obviously I’m no aircraft engineer or rocket scientist, so this is just my take. When I first saw this concept, my assumption was that it was a cool idea that could work in theory, but that it’s also a gimmick, and that KLM was behind this project because it makes them look good to be investing in the future.
But the more I look at the details, the more this doesn’t seem that crazy. In particular, the fact that airport infrastructure wouldn’t have to change much is something working in favor of this.
Still, for something so radically different, I can’t even imagine how much money would be going into the design of the plane, and how much funding would be required. While a 20% decrease in fuel burn is good, I’m not sure the savings there are enough to warrant the amount of money that would go into something like this.
The other big issue is that even if the science works out, I wonder if this could actually be certified to fly. In other words, is this type of concept as safe when it comes to emergency evacuations as a traditional plane? My inclination is no, but I of course could be wrong.
What do you think — will we ever see something like the “Flying-V” concept in the skies?