23 July 2024

GreenAir News

Reporting on aviation and the environment

NASA selects Boeing to develop future single-aisle aircraft capable of reducing emissions by up to 30%

Boeing will partner with NASA to build, test and fly a full-scale demonstrator aircraft, designed to validate technologies which could cut by up to 30% the fuel consumption and emissions of future single-aisle aircraft, compared to today’s most-efficient models. The Transonic Truss-Braced Wing prototype will be a narrowbody, twin-engine aircraft with extra-long thin wings, high-mounted and stabilised by diagonal struts to produce less aerodynamic drag than current designs. The concept is the culmination of more than a decade of development by Boeing, NASA and industrial partners, which has included detailed digital modelling and wind tunnel testing. NASA will invest $425 million and Boeing and its industrial partners an estimated $725 million in the seven-year Sustainable Flight Demonstrator programme. It is enabled under a Funded Space Act Agreement through which NASA can leverage private industry knowledge and experience to progress aviation efficiency initiatives.

NASA said single-aisle aircraft were the backbone of many airline fleets, which, due to their high-cycle utilisation, are responsible for almost half of global emissions from aviation. They account for 75-80% of fleet demand forecast by Boeing and its European rival Airbus during the next 20 years. Boeing believes the use of longer, higher wings could eventually enable the use of advanced propulsion systems that are limited by restricted underwing space on current low-wing aircraft.

“If we are successful,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, “we may see these technologies in planes that the public takes to the skies in the 2030s.”

 In addition to the funding, NASA will contribute technical expertise and facilities to the demonstrator aircraft programme, though it will not procure an aircraft or other hardware for its missions. It will also gain access to ground and flight data to help validate the airframe configuration and associated technologies featured on the test aircraft.

“NASA plans to complete testing for the project by the late 2020s, so that technologies and designs demonstrated by the project can inform industry decisions about the next generation of single-aisle aircraft that could enter into service in the 2030s,” the agency said. “The Sustainable Flight Demonstrator will help the United States achieve net zero carbon emissions from aviation by 2050 – one of the environmental goals articulated in the White House’s US Aviation Climate Action Plan.”

Bob Pearce, NASA Associate Administrator for the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, said the agency was working towards “an ambitious goal of developing game-changing technologies” as part of a broader drive by the aviation sector to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

“The Transonic Truss-Braced Wing is the kind of transformative concept and investment we will need to meet those challenges and, critically, the technologies demonstrated in this project have a clear and viable path to informing the next generation of single-aisle aircraft, benefiting everyone that uses the air transportation system,” he said. 

Together with other advancements in propulsion systems, materials and systems architecture, the technologies test-flown on the new demonstrator aircraft are expected to deliver the up to 30% reduction in fuel burn and emissions compared to the most efficient single-aisle aircraft in service today.

Boeing’s latest global forecast, the 2022-2041 Commercial Market Outlook, estimates a requirement for 41,170 new aircraft over the survey period. Of these, it forecasts that 30,880, or 75%, would be single-aisle aircraft, the focus of its new collaboration with NASA, “as domestic and inter-regional travel continue to drive the sector’s near-term recovery and continued future growth.”  This aircraft segment also represents 75% of Boeing’s 10-year forecast, accounting for 14,620 of the total 19,575 aircraft the company estimated would be needed in that period. The equivalent forecast by European rival Airbus estimates a total demand for 39,490 new passenger and freight aircraft during the same 20-year timeframe, but forecasts that 31,620, or 80%, would be typically single-aisle.

Boeing has previously worked with NASA and industry partners on other advanced aviation concepts. “We’re honoured to continue our partnership with NASA and to demonstrate technology that significantly improves aerodynamic efficiency, resulting in substantially lower fuel burn and emissions,” said Boeing’s Chief Technology Officer, Todd Citron. “Boeing has been advancing a multi-pronged sustainability strategy, including fleet renewal, operational efficiency, renewable energy and advanced technologies to support the US Aviation Climate Action Plan, and meet the industry objective of net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The Sustainable Flight Demonstrator builds on more than a decade of NASA, Boeing and our industry partners’ investments to help achieve these objectives.”  

The Sustainable Flight Demonstrator project is part of NASA’s Integrated Aviation Systems Program, and one of the main elements of the Sustainable Flight National Partnership, dedicated to developing new technologies for more sustainable air transport. NASA has also worked with partners in other segments of the air transport industry, including electric aviation start-up Ampaire and aircraft engineering and modification group Ikhana on as project to convert turboprop DHC Twin Otter aircraft to hybrid electric propulsion.

Image: Boeing concept of commercial aircraft families with a Transonic Truss-Braced Wing configuration from the Sustainable Flight Demonstrator project

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