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Could financially viable supersonic travel have a commercial future?
Supersonic jets and their life expectancy suffered after the grounding of Concorde.
Although this type of transport reached various destinations in record time, economic factors resulted in the permanent grounding of such craft. Limited seats, expensive tickets and extremely high fuel consumption all contributed to a type of transport which was simply not financially or commercially viable.
Since concordes were taken from the sky in 2003, researchers have attempted to develop a more sustainable model for supersonic travel -- quieter, cheaper and more efficient alternatives to previous supersonic jet models. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) may have discovered such an alternative.
According to Qiqi Wang, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, a redesigned flight model may be the answer to increasing efficiency and lowering fuel consumption to the point that a future carrier could be an efficient and commercial means of travel.
The idea is simple: Instead of one wing per side, why not use two?
Wang and his colleagues Rui Hu, a post-doctorate in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and Antony Jameson, a professor of engineering at Stanford University, have showcased their design through a computer model of the modified biplane.
By decreasing drag through the modified design of a dual-winged plane, there would be a significant reduction in fuel requirements. Not only this, but the plane would produce far less of a sonic boom -- resulting in a quieter transport.
The MIT team are not the first to consider such a design. In the 1950s, a German engineer called Adolf Busemann saw the potential in this kind of biplane design. By studying the way that air becomes compressed once an aircraft approaches the speed of sound, resulting in an increase in pressure that causes a sonic boom, the engineer calculated that certain kinds of configuration could remove these shock waves.
"The sonic boom is really the shock waves created by the supersonic airplanes, propagated to the ground," Wang said. "It's like hearing gunfire. It's so annoying that supersonic jets were not allowed to fly over land."
The new designs produced by the researchers give these original ideas credence -- which although cancelled out shock waves by positioning jets with wings positioned above each other rather than remaining on separate sides, unfortunately lacked the required lift.
A very narrow channel resulted from the wing positioning in the original designs, leaving only a limited amount of available air flow -- causing increased drag at the high speeds required to reach a supersonic level.
However, with Wang's design based on a computational model, optimal wing shapes could be calculated to remove this issue. Over a dozen different speeds and 700 wing configurations were analyzed to achieve the 'optimal' shape for each wing -- something that Busemann had no access to.
By smoothing the inner surfaces of each wing to create wider air flow channels, and by bumping out the top edge of each 'higher' wing, not only could the lift issue be solved, but theoretically the craft could achieve supersonic speeds -- with a substantial drop in the drag levels that supersonic jets had to endure.
Wang says that this kind of design could also result in fuel consumption reductions of over 50 percent for high-speed aircraft in the future. In addition, the possibility of lowering the capacity of fuel storage required could also invoke a chain reaction in reducing drag -- by limiting the size requirements of a carrier.
The results will be published in the Journal of Aircraft. The team plan to further their work by developing a 3D model in the future, in order to address other issues that can affect a craft's flight functionality.
"Now people are having more ideas on how to improve [Busemann's] design," Wang concluded. "This may lead to a dramatic improvement, and there may be a boom in the field in the coming years."
Image credit: Tohoku University/MIT
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Mar 19, 2012
It will someday become viable and necessary....there is a lot of work to be done on power plant and fuel....but it will be done....there is a huge market for supersonic business and freight travel, just not at the cost of present technology.....but we always push forward...
If you fly from Edinburgh to Dusseldorf most of your journey time will be spent on the ground. With high speed rail, you would spend more time actually traveling and get there sooner. Anyway, air travel is doomed. When fossil fuels run out, how are you going to run an airliner on electricity?
Actually Concorde was quite profitable, at least for British Airways if not for Air France. (There was an agreement that both would continue flying them until both mutually agreed not to.) There was a big enough market willing to pay the premium for the time saving of crossing NYC (or earlier Washington) to London for them to always run at capacity. There were some people who did day trips to London and back! An expensive way to avoid jet lag... In fact after the accident when BA finally acceded to Air France's desire to stop flying them, Richard Branson wanted to take over BA's Concorde fleet and run them under the Virgin flag.
The question is can such a design be scaled up to carry enough passengers to be worthwhile, and can it be built and maintained economically. The Concorde was a commercial failure not just because the its fuel burn and sonic boom that limited it to exclusively overseas routes, but because the cost of building them was astronomical, and it carried too few people.
The supercruise technology in the F22 Raptor allows it to attain supersonic speeds without the need for afterburners. I have yet to see a proposed commercial SST designs use this technology. The poor fuel economy of afterburners has always been a major hurdle for commercial SSTs.
In this current world I find it difficult to believe anyone but the very rich could travel in it for quite sometime. Day to day folk don't travel literally but by internet. Could this just be a metaphor for faster web programs linking banking and publishing and property ownerships disguised by the green movement. To much money is thrown to environmental projects without investing in actual people. It is like ordinary people are already dead to the to think tank experts online and if you do try to engage they knock you down before you even open your mouth. I have found my mouth and courage and that is my say.
The governments of Britain & France literally gave the airplanes to British Airways and Air France. The airlines did not have to pay for them; just the cost of operating and maintaining them, which even still did not result in a worthwhile profit. Basically, it was cold-war nationalistic prestige purchase. The net result was average British & French taxpayers made to pay for wealthy celebrities, businesspeople and other 1%-ers to fly trans-Atlantic at great speed. (It didn't have the range to fly any other worthwhile route) If all airlines didn't have to finance hundreds-of-millions of dollars it cost to buy each plane they operate, they'd all be fabulously profitable.
Supercruise won't solve all the problems. After all, the Concorde achieved supercruise, and it was still a fuel hog.
The Concorde achieved supersonic speeds using afterburners. Supercruise is the ability of a standard jet engine to achieve supersonic speeds without fuel gulping afterburners. The F-22 was the first non X-plane to make supersonic speeds without afterburners. Supercruise is a compromise in design that uses more fuel than subsonic flight to cover the same distance in less time, but less fuel than afterburners used to make the same speed over the same distance. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supercruise