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Soaring prospects for aviation with ingenious aircraft wing design

Thanks to a resurrected 100-year-old box-wing design, aeroplanes of the future could carry more passengers, be greener and cost less to run.

Transport and Mobility icon Transport and Mobility

The air transport industry is one of the fastest-growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions. About 3 % of the EU’s total emissions – currently around 130 million tonnes – can be attributed to aviation. With the demand for travel growing at a rapid pace and air traffic expected to increase by 45 % by 2035, the sector is facing a major environmental challenge. A team of researchers may just have an answer to the problem. Through their EU-funded project PARSIFAL, they have designed an aircraft called PrandtlPlane. The new design can cater to the rising number of passengers while maintaining the same number of flights. How? By means of an innovative wing configuration called ‘box wing’, proposed a century ago by German engineer Ludwig Prandtl. The box-wing concept A box wing is a closed-wing design. When seen from the front, the wings form the shape of a rectangle. Just like a biplane, there are two horizontal wings, but the wing tips are connected with vertical wings. This has the benefit of reducing the drag acting on the aircraft. The innovative configuration therefore makes the PrandtlPlane, named after the originator of the concept, more fuel efficient and kinder to the environment. Besides producing fewer emissions, it also generates much less pollution in airport areas during take-off and landing thanks to its efficiency at low speeds. The box-wing design also makes it possible to increase the number of passengers carried in medium-sized commercial aeroplanes. Instead of 180 passengers, planes with this type of wing architecture could carry over 300. To deal with the possible adverse effect on airport logistics, the project team has planned for wider aisles and three exits so that passengers will be able to embark and disembark more quickly. “PrandtlPlane is the most promising solution to the problem of the future increase in requests from the civil aviation sector,” said lead researcher Prof. Aldo Frediani of the University of Pisa in a press release published on the Science|Business website. “The new technological solutions adopted in the PrandtlPlane will also help to reduce specific consumption, environmental pollution and running costs: this is the main issue the PARSIFAL researchers will be focusing on during the next phase of activity.” Just over a year after the start of the project, the team has presented a 1:50 scale model of the aircraft with its box-wing configuration. Depending on safety checks and interest shown by aircraft manufacturers, passengers could be embarking on just such a plane in 10-15 years’ time. The next steps for PARSIFAL (Prandtlplane ARchitecture for the Sustainable Improvement of Future AirpLanes) are to improve the aerodynamics, engine position and controls of the aircraft. With the help of the University of Pisa’s economics department, it will also be determining the aircraft’s projected economic performance. For more information, please see: PARSIFAL project website



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