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Very efficient large aircraft

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Bringing 'flying wing' to the passenger

Despite some hiccups, global air traffic looks set to continue growing into the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, airport congestion and mounting passenger numbers will drive development of larger and larger aircraft, introducing new challenges in terms of aerodynamic efficiency.

Industrial Technologies

As size increases, conventional aircraft configurations reach technical limitations, making it difficult to maintain high standards of performance. Many experts now see a need for more radical solutions, including unconventional 'flying wing' designs for large civil aircraft. Over the years, flying wings have been developed with some success for military use, but the concept has had little purchase in the civil aviation market, mainly due to stringent payload and airworthiness requirements. Basically, flying wings are more difficult to handle than conventional planes, raising concerns about safety. The situation may be changing. Today's 'fly-by-wire' aircraft used in commercial passenger transport are fitted with computer control systems that automatically optimise handling characteristics. This makes it easier for designers to push the envelope of feasible airframe shapes. The EU-funded VELA project worked to develop skills, capabilities and methodologies for advancing the design and optimisation of 'flying wing' civil aircraft. First, project partners looked at various aerodynamic derivatives of relevance to flight control systems, i.e. measures of how particular forces affect aircraft stability. Low-speed wind tunnel tests were performed and the results compared with predictions made using preliminary design tools. Validation tests focused on the effects of deflecting control surfaces and other dynamic characteristics of flying wing configurations. Optimisation techniques were then applied to maximise the efficiency of these configurations, varying parameters such as chord length, twist angle and airfoil section shape. Other constraints, such as cabin dimensions and floor angle, as well as longitudinal stability, were also taken into account. VELA partners looked at wider issues such as the compatibility of radical aircraft designs with existing airport facilities. They also applied advanced simulation techniques to the study of safety issues such as ditching and passenger evacuation procedures. In short, VELA has demonstrated convincingly the use of new tools and techniques for the evaluation of advanced aircraft concepts that could change the way we fly.

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