Passenger jets of the future could save on fuel by flying in formation and following in each others' slipstream.
The passenger plane of the future could be solar powered and travel at five times the speed of sound but the British government must act quickly to ensure that the domestic aerospace industry has a chance of making it, according to a report.
The Institution of Mechanical Engineers said state-of-the-art technology will allow airlines to travel in a V-shaped group formation similar to migrating geese by the end of the century. The IME study groups aircraft into three types: subsonic planes that travel slower than the speed of sound; supersonic jets that fly faster than the speed of sound; and hypersonic aircraft that travel at more than five times the speed of sound.
The report adds that, regardless of the aircraft type, passenger jets could save on fuel by flying in formation and following in each others’ slipstream. A “blended wing” shape, where the wing and fuselage meld into one, will also make the planes more fuel-efficient and aerodynamic, the IME claims, although blended wing formats have been discussed by the industry for years now.
“Aircraft could be configured in a V-shaped, echelon formation when at cruise with following aircraft enjoying a drag reduction and lift advantage from the airflow generated by the aircraft in front,” said the report, titled Aero 2075: Flying into a Bright Future? “Taken directly from nature, the concept is akin to the aerodynamic nature of a flock of geese.”
However, the IME’s chief executive, Stephen Tetlow, said the UK’s position as the world’s number two player in the aerospace market is under threat from ambitious newcomers such as China. “Now is the time for industry and government to focus on sectors that can help lift the country’s economy. The UK aerospace sector already employs over 100,000 people around the country and is worth over £29bn a year to our economy, but we need to take action now to ensure this sector can continue to thrive and grow.”
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