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NASA Aeronautics works toward carbonless silent aircraft

NASA Aeronautics works toward carbonless silent aircraft

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NASA's Aeronautics division has been working to knock out two of the biggest problems with airplanes today: noise and carbon emissions.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Someday, there might not be a need for noise-cancelling headphones in airplanes. That's because NASA's Aeronautics division has been working to knock out two of the biggest problems with airplanes today: noise and carbon emissions.

Fay Collier, an engineer at NASA Aeronautics, insists that making airplanes more environmentally friends is not actually a new concept.

"The new idea is bringing all of this together at a much higher level of integration," Collier said during a presentation at the TEDxNASA innovation event in San Francisco on Wednesday.

The two key problems to producing carbonless silent aircraft can be derived from the goal of the project itself.

To attack the first problem, carbon emissions, Collier said that there is already technology to reverse this hazard "in the pipeline right now" and nearly ready for introduction as NASA, government agencies and others have been working on this for the last 10 to 15 years.

Although Collier didn't offer many specifics, these are the three key elements that need to be in place to eliminate carbon emissions from airplanes: drag, weight and fuel reduction. As for weight reduction, Collier asserted that the overall weight of airplanes could be reduced by up to 10 percent by using stitched composites when building the planes.

In terms of noise reduction, Collier said that "local community noise is the number one constraint to the growth of aircraft transportation system." Here, engineers have to focus on airframe noise (i.e. high-lift systems and the landing gear), and propulsion noise from the fan, core and engines.

As for what these planes might look like? NASA Aeronautics showed a video during the presentation that revealed a slim jet taking with three large, rear propellers on top of a flattened, triangular fuselage.

Although it will definitely be years before we ever see carbonless silent aircraft in the sky, Collier said that NASA and partners, including Lockheed Martin and Boeing, will have some results that will "essentially confirms we’re on the right track" within the next three to six months.

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Rachel King

Rachel King is a staff writer for ZDNet. Previously she worked for The Business Insider, FastCompany.com, CNN's San Francisco bureau and the U.S. Department of State. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in San Francisco.