Avionics improvements have improved navigation accuracy and made more fuel efficient flight paths possible. Chapter 10 deals with this subject in some depth.
Regulatory changes such as the addition of extended twin operations (ETOPS) rules have made it possible for today's highly efficient and reliable twin-engine aircraft to be used on routes that were previously prohibited to them. These routes have larger airfield division distances; hence, a shorter flight distance track can be achieved, which reduces fuel consumption.
This subsection considers some of the advances being made in aerodynamic-related fields of study. Advances in these areas become candidates for gradual adoption into derivatives of existing production aircraft and the next generation of airliners, as shown in Figure 7-4. Some concepts, such as improved wing tip devices and smoother surface areas, can be considered for derivatives of existing designs. Advanced weight reduction technologies, aircraft control systems, and airframe concepts are also discussed.
Smooth laminar flow over a body creates less drag than turbulent flow. However, it is difficult to achieve and depends on a number of factors, particularly the shape and surface of the body. Current aircraft designs generate varying degrees of turbulent flow. Passive control concepts that encourage laminar flow are being explored. These concepts include slotted airfoils or actively heated/cooled surfaces, but the benefits still need to be proven. If wing-mounted prop-fan (un-ducted powerplants-see Section 7.4.3.) propulsion technology were to be adopted in the future, laminar flow airfoils that could tolerate the effects of propeller efflux over the wing surface would need to be developed. Alternative mounting arrangements, such as aft fuselage-mounted prop fans, may also be considered.
Laminar flow suction systems for wing, fuselage, stabilizers, and nacelles have been and continue to be reviewed and evaluated. Development of these systems, which aim to keep the flow attached (laminar) to aerodynamic surfaces by sucking ambient air through
porous skins, is a high-risk technical challenge that is likely to require a longer time frame for full development and airline introduction (after 2015). A key consideration is the weight of the laminar flow systems (and their power requirements) compared with savings from drag reduction over the complete mission. Contamination of the porous skin surface by insects/debris can significantly reduce the performance of laminar flow systems and increase maintenance cost. Work in this field to date has not reached the point where these penalties, together with the effects of system failure or other risks, have been fully evaluated and balanced against fuel savings.
Figure 7-5: 2016 subsonic airplane.
Other potential aerodynamic improvements requiring further development and investigation include attachment of riblets (tiny groves in the direction of airflow) to the fuselage, wing, and horizontal tail to reduce turbulent flow areas; advanced passive flow control devices (e.g., vortex generators) to enhance lift; advanced winglets on outboard wings; supercritical wing technology to enhance and optimize cruise lift/drag ratio; advanced CFD design methodologies; and advanced manufacturing methods to improve fuselage and wing surface smoothness to reduce drag.
It is expected that the weight of the airframe structure will continue to decrease through gradual incorporation of improved aluminum alloys and aluminum-lithium composites for sections of primary structures (i.e., fuselage, wing, and empennage), and composites for secondary structures. For primary structures, the process of introduction is slow because of the certification process for structural design, material property characterization, and safety issues, which involve lengthy and costly durability and strength test programs.
Thrust reversers enhance landing performance, especially during wet runway conditions. Significant weight reductions could be obtained by removing them from some aircraft configurations. Estimates indicate that maximum take-off gross weight could be reduced by about 0.3-1%, depending on aircraft configuration and size. Removal of thrust reversers could also improve internal nozzle flow characteristics (e.g., reduced internal thrust losses). This matter needs further study. Further weight reduction could be achieved via reduced passenger amenities, such as the elimination of windows, in-flight entertainment, and galleys or reduction in seat pitch. These measures may be more applicable to short-range routes. The weight of in-flight entertainment systems is likely to be reduced in the future by technology. However, it is questionable whether such changes would ever be accepted by fare-paying passengers. Increasing demand for passenger comfort items such as flight entertainment systems may also limit changes. Interior cabin furnishings and passive interior noise treatment (e.g., wall bags/environmental control ducts) for cabin noise control may be reduced in the future if active noise control technology is successfully developed for attenuation of broadband and tonal noise sources.
Estimates of weight reductions accruing from successful implementation of these strategies, applied to a medium-range, wide-body aircraft, suggest that 2,000 kg of OEW might be saved. This weight reduction represents approximately a 1% fuel efficiency improvement.
Figure 7-6: MD-11, blended-wing body, and conventional planview size comparison.
Figure 7-7: Gas turbine schematics.
Aerodynamic efficiency improvements such as higher lift/drag ratio (e.g., slotted cruise airfoil and natural laminar flow), new structural materials, and control system advances (such as fly-by-wire) could collectively improve fuel efficiency by about 10%, compared to current production aircraft. An aircraft representing some of these nearer term (2016) advanced airframe technologies is shown in Figure 7-5 on the previous page (Condit, 1996).
At the upper end of the airframe size scale (> 600 passengers), a more futuristic concept approach such as a blended-wing body (BWB) could be developed. A plan view size comparison between an MD-11, BWB, and conventional 800-passenger aircraft is shown in Figure 7-6 (Liebeck, et al., 1998). Studies have assessed the potential of the BWB design. The advantage of the BWB over conventional or evolutionary designs stem from extending the cabin spanwise, thereby providing structural and aerodynamic overlap with the wing. This design reduces the total aerodynamic wetted area of the airplane and allows a higher span to be achieved because the deep and stiff centerbody provides "free" structural wingspan. Relaxed static stability allows optimum span loading. If engine and structural material technologies remain the same for the BWB, initial estimates show that fuel burn could be reduced significantly relative to that of conventionally designed large transports (Liebeck et al., 1998). Other large transport configurations are being evaluated (McMasters and Kroo, 1998) and compared to current designs.
In addition to the fuel burn and emissions reduction potential of this concept, the engine installation and airframe can help to minimize exterior noise: Inlets are placed above the wing so fan noise is shielded by the vast centerbody.Validation of potential fuel burn benefits will require extensive full-scale testing. The principal challenges lie in the overall structural integrity of the oval pressure vessel, integration of propulsion and airframe, emergency egress (evacuation of passengers on land and water), passenger acceptance, and airport compatibility. An initial BWB concept could enter service after the year 2020. However, the passenger size and range of the initial design is not known at this time.
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