At the Singapore air show this week, Airbus took the wraps off a super secret design project it started in 2017. That project could lead to exotic new commercial aircraft which are up to 20% more efficient than the single aisle planes used by most commercial airlines today.
The Airbus MAVERIC project has culminated in a working scale model 2 meters long and 3.2 meters wide. MAVERIC stands for Model Aircraft for Validation and Experimentation of Robust Innovative Controls. In addition to using significantly less fuel, the company says the new design “opens up new possibilities for propulsion systems type and integration, as well as a versatile cabin for a totally new on-board passenger experience.”
“Airbus is leveraging emerging technologies to pioneer the future of flight. By testing disruptive aircraft configurations, Airbus is able to evaluate their potential as viable future products,” said Jean-Brice Dumont, executive vice president for engineering at Airbus. “Although there is no specific time line for entry-into-service, this technological demonstrator could be instrumental in bringing about change in commercial aircraft architectures for an environmentally sustainable future for the aviation industry.”
The MAVERIC blended wing design is intended to use the jet engines available today, but the company is also deeply involved in a hybrid electric propulsion system it calls E-FAN X in partnership with Rolls Royce and Siemens. It also is studying ways of reducing emissions and improving efficiency with its “fellow’fly” approach which mimics the V shaped flight pattern common among birds as they migrate in flocks. Airbus is also deeply involved in developing autonomous systems that would allow airplanes to take off, fly, and land without the need for human pilots.
More Space For Passengers?
Airlines today are converting planes into flying cattle cars with passengers packed in as tightly as possible in order to maximize revenue. Airbus says blended wing planes could change all that. “A blended wing body design provides an exceptionally comfortable cabin layout, enabling passengers to benefit from additional legroom and larger aisles for more personal comfort,” the company says. That may be true but how long will it take commercial airlines to figure out ways to pack more people into those wide open spaces?
“At Airbus, we understand society expects more from us in terms of improving the environmental performance of our aircraft,” explains Adrien Bérard, co-leader of the MAVERIC project. “MAVERIC’s blended wing body configuration is a potential game-changer in this respect, and we’re keen to push the technology to the limit.”
So far, aerodynamic testing at the Airbus facility in Filton, UK, has validated the low speed and stall dynamics of the blended wing design. Future testing will analyze such things as its handling qualities, flight control, multi-objective control surfaces, and modularity.
There won’t be any blended wing airplanes in the sky any time soon. Approvals for new aircraft designs take years to obtain. But the Airbus project may be the entré to a new era of air travel that is more comfortable with fewer emissions, which would be good news for air travelers and the environment.
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