Green aviation: NASA and Boeing are working on the passenger aircraft of the future

Using a demonstration aircraft, NASA and Boeing want to try out new technologies for environmentally friendly commercial aviation.

This is what the NASA and Boeing test aircraft could look like (rendering). (Image: Boeing)

The US space agency NASA and the US aircraft manufacturer Boeing want to develop a passenger aircraft together to make aviation more environmentally friendly. NASA announced this at a presentation on Wednesday. For this purpose, a life-size demonstration aircraft is being built as part of the “Sustainable Flight Demonstrator” project, on which the participating partners want to validate emission reduction technologies.

The joint project will run for a period of seven years and has an investment volume of 725 million US dollars, around 671.5 million euros. NASA is adding $425 million under the Funded Space Act. The rest will be taken over by Boeing and its partner companies. In addition, NASA provides technical knowledge and gives Boeing access to facilities, such as construction and testing.

Future airliners will need to be more fuel efficient, said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. This would benefit the environment, the commercial aviation industry, and passengers. But that won’t be the case any time soon. NASA doesn’t expect a prototype to be airborne before 2028 at the earliest. If everything works out, techniques from this could be seen in aircraft that will be completed in the 2030s.

A few key data of the planned aircraft prototype have already been determined. It is said to be a single-aisle aircraft with a continuous fuselage, like today’s passenger aircraft. In addition, the “Transonic Truss-Based Wing” concept is to be applied. The very long narrow wings are located above the fuselage and are supported by diagonal struts from the fuselage. The struts also provide buoyancy. The engineers expect this design to result in significantly less drag and thus lower fuel consumption than in conventional commercial aircraft. In combination with newly developed engines, NASA speaks of fuel savings of 30 percent.

However, the wing concept that NASA and Boeing want to use is not new. Boeing had already presented the concept in 2019. The challenge is to implement it technically without causing too much stress on the aircraft.

NASA and Boeing also want to work together on the propulsion systems, the materials used, and the system architecture. NASA did not provide any further details.

The project is part of NASA’s Integrated Aviation Systems Program (IASP), which conducts research and development of advanced aeronautical technology for future aircraft. The aircraft, which has not yet been named, is intended to help achieve the CO₂-free aviation decided by the USA by 2050.

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