View Full Version : Flying wings in the future ?

The Nr Fairy
2nd Nov 2005, 08:40
From The Times today:

AIRLINE passengers of the future will have to do without window seats and fly in giant “batwing” aircraft as a result of aviation industry proposals to tackle climate change.

Greenhouse gas emissions from flights will continue to increase for at least another 20 years — even under the most optimistic timetable for introducing these new planes.

But today the industry will present a vision for air travel of the future in which technology eventually solves the problem. The Greener by Design group, which includes Airbus, Rolls-Royce and the Department for Transport, believes that the new airliners will enter passenger service in 2025 and that, by 2055, they will make up a third of the world’s fleet, or more than 10,000 aircraft.

Known as “flying wings”, the new airliners will be based on designs that were produced by Sir Frederick Handley Page in in Britain 1961.

The entire fuselage would be turned into one wing, which would create far less drag than a conventional cigar-shaped fuselage. Engines would sit on top, with the wing shielding the noise from the ground.

Passengers would sit in rows of up to 40 seats across. Only a handful of the 500 seats would be next to windows but those passengers lucky enough to get them would have a spectacular forward view. However, the aircraft would have to bank more gently to avoid nausea among those seated nearer the wing-tips, on the ends of rows.

Sir Frederick’s design was considered too expensive and risky by the industry in 1961, and he died the next year, a disappointed man.

But his ideas have now been resurrected as the prospect of tough environmental controls and the rising cost of fuel force aircraft manufacturers to think more radically.

Boeing is working on designs for a military flying wing that will serve as a troop carrier or tanker. Cranfield University, in Bedfordshire, is producing a scale model for Boeing, which will be used for flight tests.

Airbus is also working on a flying wing design under a four-year, £20 million research project that is funded by the European Union and expected to report in 2009.

Professor John Green, chairman of the Greener by Design technology group, said that flying wings would consume only a third of the fuel used by existing aircraft. They will be constructed of toughened plastic, rather than aluminium, to reduce their weight by several tonnes. The whole outer surface would be covered in millions of tiny holes, drilled by laser, to reduce drag by sucking in air as it flows over the wing.

The impact that today’s conventional aircraft would eventually have on the world’s climate would be reduced even further by changes in the way that airlines operate.

All airliners will alter their cruising altitude to avoid the conditions that form condensation trails, which many scientists now believe to be more damaging than carbon dioxide emissions because of the way they trap heat in the atmosphere. Professor Green said that airliners could also reduce the amount of fuel they burn by flying in formation, as jet fighters do. Taken together, these changes would bring total aircraft emissions below their present levels by 2025 — despite the expected number of flights being doubled.

The airline industry hopes that the report, which was presented to officials at No 10 last week, will convince ministers that there is no need to impose taxes on aviation fuel.

But green groups last night questioned the industry’s claim that air travel could continue to expand without sacrificing the environment.

Jeff Gazzard, co-ordinator of the Greenskies Alliance, said: “The industry is trying to present a plausible scenario in order to carry on growing as fast as they can.

“But they have yet to offer a plausible timetable for introducing flying wings.

“They are trying to imagine their way out of the problem with artists’ impressions that are worthy of Walt Disney. The only realistic solution is to fly less.”

Link: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2-1853992,00.html

2nd Nov 2005, 11:09
Here is a very short article on flying wing history. Many books have been written on the subject.


Jack Northrop first began work on a flying wing design as a young man in the 1920s. He and his company designed, built and flew several different flying wing aircraft in the 1940s and 50s. Ultimately, none of them were put into production due to a number of technological challenges which were not surmountable until many years later with advances in electronic technology. Others continued his work though. Eventually, the wing WAS produced and flies today as the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber.

Before his death, Mr. Northrop lived to see a secret protptype B-2, which eventually became the only flying wing aircraft ever to be produced or be operationally deployed. Arguably the most expensive airplane ever to be produced. I do not expect to see this type of design produced for airline service any time soon for a number of operational, technical and economic reasons. But the real legacy of Mr. Northrop and those like him is that someone will in the future be inspired to realize their own vision and advance the state of the art yet further.

Best regards,


2nd Nov 2005, 11:23
It is a very efficient design, but there are operational factors to be considered with such a radical design change. The enormous problem of pressurising a wide flat passenger container as opposed to a long tube (easy- but look at the problems doing that over the years!). Passenger acceptance of the cabin shape and such new appearance, cargo loading difficulties, wing span required....... there are many more 'problems'.

Aero engineering students frequently appear here expressing frustration at the unchanging design scene, but there are reasons for conservatism in design. The Varieeze shape light plane is probably the most efficient design so far, yet it seems to be an aviation design cul-de-sac. Almost all modern design has reverted to basic Cessna 150/Piper Cherokee design. The Avanti is making a small comeback, but look where the Beech Starship went. Innovative design is very unlikely to work in aviation. What succeeds is incremental change only.