Who Cares if it Can Fly? – Fuel conservation meets cool high in the sky

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Passenger jets use a lot of fuel. It’s one of the reasons the airlines try to cut costs by sticking it to us for every little amenity.

It’s annoying, but understandable when one considers that a 747 uses about five gallons of jet fuel for every nautical mile that it flies. Smaller planes obviously use less, but it’s still a cutthroat business with large operating costs. Even though the airlines’ ultimate plan is to just stack passengers like cordwood and eliminate every cost-sucking comfort, there’s also an effort underway to design more fuel-efficient airliners, such as the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which started service last year.

With a target date of 2025, Lockheed Martin engineers are working on a greener design that’s both incredibly efficient and aesthetically beautiful. Based on the “box wing” concept and using advanced lightweight materials such as those found in the Dreamliner and F-35 fighter jets, this concept plane design increases the average lift-to-drag ratio by 16 percent. That allows the craft to fly farther with less fuel, while its general shape remains compatible with today’s airport gate configurations. (Something not possible with more radical flying-wing designs, for example.)

Lockheed Martin has also added ultrahigh-bypass turbofan engines. The fans themselves are 40 percent wider and move air past the engine core at several times the rate of today’s engines. This improves efficiency another 22 percent. Combined with other improvements, this plane could provide an overall fuel savings of over 50 percent. The box wing design also allows for steeper approaches in populated areas, shorter runways and greatly reduced engine noise. We don’t care about any of this, really, or even worry about if it’s safe. We just think it’s beautiful.

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