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back to article Airbus predicts catapult takeoffs and formation flying by 2050

Airbus has detailed its plans for the future of air travel in 2050, when megacities and rising fuel costs will make flying a very different kettle of (flying) fish. The company's "Smarter Skies" report has been two years in the making, using interviews within the aviation industry and with designers to come up with radical new …

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Plans?

More like a fairy tail I think.

To be a plan you need to have a good idea how you are going to do it.

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Re: Plans?

They seemed fairly conservative to me. As the article notes, most of them have already been done either by military craft or in cases of crisis. The main unproven suggestions are in the materials and airframe and I think it is quite laughable to suggest that we'll still be using rigid lumps of metal in high-performance applications in 40 years time. Materials science has come on quite along way since the 70s you know.

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Alert

Re: Plans?

Fairies don't have tails. I think you're confusing them with unicorns.

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Facepalm

Re: Plans? Ken Hagan

Really? Are there self growing and repairing organic aircraft parts?

The rest of the stuff might be a good idea and practical (like the catapult). Not sure about the pie in the sky ideas though.

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Facepalm

Re: Plans?

considering how long commercial jet aircraft have been going, there has been rather modest changes in aircraft design and materials.

40 years isn't a long time so it's highly unlikelty that we will see a quantum shift in what constitutes an aircraft.

It takes a manufacturer almost a decade to design, test and deliver a new aircraft.

With safety restrictions and processes it is next to impossible to deliver on this vision.

Getting airports to support a double decker aircraft took forever what are the chances of getting catapults working in a short timeframe.

Expect evolution not revolution.

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Anonymous Coward

Catapults are designed

To get aircraft up in a very short length of runway by rapidly increasing the speed to the speed necessary for the aircraft wings to develop lift.

If you have a catapult that does this gently you might as well use the whole length of the runway.

If any of you have flown a glider and taken off by a cable launch you will know it is fun but not comfortable.

A good friend of mine left his lunch, tomato soup, sandwiches, tea all over the inside of the canopy after one such episode.

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Meh

Sadly

Some people believe Star Trek is real.

Pie in the Sky I think.

Now beam me up Scotty.

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Re: Catapults are designed

Another reason this is crap is that non-powered jet landings preclude the use of thrust-reversal, again making for longer runways.

One wonders if any of the folks involved in the paper are actually pilots. Methinks not.

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The real reason for all this

Of course these are not plans. Anyway, any promise from a government or organisation to deliver something in 40 years time (when all the existing company officals are dead and buried) is obvious bullshit.

So why do these companies actually promise all this? For the same reason McDonalds puts salads on the menu.

McDonalds shoppers don't actually buy the salads, but just seeing salads on the menu helps to alleviate the feeling that they are making unhealthy choices when they buy a grease bomb. (Putting aside the issue that Mc salads are covered with fat too).

Same deal here: increasingly greeny consumers associate the aircraft industry with being bad polluters etc. But customers feel a bit better when they hear that these aircraft companies are developing stuff that will make flying less polluting.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Catapults are designed

Yes, and don't they usually make a big mess of the grass as well especially if there's no power to get the undercarriage extended as well :P

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Plans?

Yeah, well, whenever I want to confuse a fairy, a unicorn would be my choice, too.

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Re: Plans? Ken Hagan

"Are there self growing and repairing organic aircraft parts?"

As I said, the main unproven suggestions are in the materials and airframe. However, medical researchers people are working with growing biological structures (with desirable properties) over micro-frameworks (which are easier to make and more robust) so even there I think it would be sticking your neck out a bit to say definitely that self-repairing composites won't happen.

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MrT
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Re: Catapults are designed

I've done that - the club used a Merlin (IIRC) to shift the gliders airborne, which is kind of ironic.

The most unnerving thing about the launches weren't leaving your stomach behind but seeing the glider wings bend up into a U shape against the winch pull then feel the plane jump up about 50m as the cable released. Definitely quicker than a towed launch though...

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Re: Catapults are designed

You're missing the point of catapults here, forget shorter runways. Aircraft use much more fuel at ground level than they do when cruising, even more so during take off. If you can offload some of the power required during take off to a catapult then the actual plane can carry less fuel which in turn makes it lighter and more efficient.

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Re: Catapults are designed

If they can use catapults,

Im sure they can use a tail hook, and some elastic cables

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Re: Plans?

What we will be doing in 40 years time in regard to any travel is anyone's guess really, but I'm at least glad someone is spending some money on thinking about it and striving to keep innovating.

I'd like to toss into the hat the concept of a crank and pedals in front of every seat to assist in taxing and take off roll.

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Re: Plans? Ken Hagan

@TechnicalBen there are already self-repairing plastics, so I don't see why not.

See http://www.techspot.com/news/47983-new-self-repairing-plastic-bleeds-and-heals-like-human-skin.html

Keep up man.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Catapults are designed

@Mr t

The most unnerving thing about the launches weren't leaving your stomach behind but seeing the glider wings bend up into a U shape..

Cheer up, you'll see the same effect on the new B787 Dreamliner with it's plastic wing. It's a strange sensation to walk out the wing of a Boeing 747 knowing that the wing is holding up two 8,000Lb engines but that my relatively feeble 14 stone is making the wing move up and down as I walk on it. People underestimate how flexible aircraft structures are.

@Fibbles

You're right Specific Fuel Consumption at altitude is greatly reduced, however that is because the aircraft is a cruise power rather than full take off power. The function of the catapult on an aircraft carrier is to accelerate the aircraft to take-off speed quickly, not to save fuel on take off. The proportion of fuel used on take off for a 9-hour flight is relatively small.

Another factor to consider is the size of the catapult required to launch a 350 ton civil airliner (Max T/O weight of a 747-8 is 975,000 lb) compared to the catapult required to launch a 20 ton F-18 hornet :-O

Catapults for civil airliners, sounds like a marketing brain fart to me.

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WTF?

Re: Plans? Ken Hagan

@TechnicalBen

Plastics from plants and self-cleaning fabrics already exist. I'm really not sure why the suggestion that they could be used in aircraft qualifies as "pie in the sky" or warrants a facepalm icon.

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Re: Catapults are designed

"The function of the catapult on an aircraft carrier is to accelerate the aircraft to take-off speed quickly, not to save fuel on take off"

We're not talking about aircraft carriers with truncated runways here, we're talking about airports with full sized runways. Imagining a military style cat flinging a 747 is kind of ridiculous, especially since military jets take off at full power even with cats so that they're less likely to end up in the sea.

A catapult for a commercial airliner of the future could accelerate the plane slowly over a long runway. This would be more comfortable for the passengers but it also would allow the plane to reach take-off speed whilst exerting much less force from its own engines. The plane could be fitted either with smaller engines (decreasing weight and drag) or normal sized engines but dialled back (decreasing fuel consumption).

"The proportion of fuel used on take off for a 9-hour flight is relatively small."

Aviation fuel is only going to get more expensive and since I already get charged extra if my baggage is even slightly over my allotted limit, I see no reason why airlines would keep buying extra fuel (and more fuel to carry the weight of that fuel etc. etc.) if they could instead pay for a catapult powered by locally generated electricity.

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Happy

Re: Plans?

"Whether fairies have tails or not, or whether they even exist, nobody knows for sure. So it's like an eternal mystery, an eternal adventure."

-- Master Markov, Fairy Tail

(where is the "I really wanted an anime quote" icon?)

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Lifecycle cost?

Have they studied the lifecycle cost of such modifications to planes or infrastructure or is this another example of Prius phenomenon - where an environmentally damaging car (due to its labor costs and reduced life expectancy, and toxic materials) is widely considered to be an environmentally friendly alternative because its marketed as such?

Aside from predictive software for navigation, I think the savings from these "innovations" won't offset the cost of implementation. Not that it won't happen, mind you. After all, we have wind power, subsidies for hybrids, and recycling of paper and plastic (also terrible for environment and productivity).

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Re: Lifecycle cost?

It's blue sky thinking. Ho ho.

Basically, it's focusing on ways to save fuel because aviation fuel is getting increasingly expensive, to the point that it has a significant effect on business. Given how much fuel is used just in take-off and landing, systems that make those much more efficient could make a big difference. 30 years of use with multiple flights each day adds up to a lot of fuel and if aviation fuel prices continue to rise the return on investment of fuel-reduction technologies will continue to increases.

But stuff like formation flying and engine-off landings won't be allowed, as much as airlines might like it.

PS Everything you read about the Prius in "Dust to Dust" (or may have heard repeated by Jeremey Clarkson) was (and continues to be) complete bullshit made up as a hatchet job (still with some lasting success, apparently).

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Re: Lifecycle cost?

While the assumptions of that study are bullshit, the premise is not. Significant proportion of people buy hybrids because they consider them more environmentally friendly than similar non-hybrid cars. That is simply not true if you take into account product life, manufacturing, and battery recycling. While it may become true at some point in the future, we're very far from it.

As to Airbus predictions, a single crash due to reduced reliability would wipe out years of savings (provided those savings would even offset capital investment to begin with).

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Holmes

Re: Lifecycle cost?

And the organic interior is just a small step forward. Now you get the snack, discard the lettuce leaf and eat the slightly more tasty container it came with.

Soon the same with the organic chairs. On long haul flights you eat the uncomfy parts away.

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Meh

Re: Lifecycle cost?

Isn't driving a Prius one of the leading causes of SMUG in the southern US? I for one would not drive a Prius until the SMUG threat has been totally eliminated!

And when I stop seeing them overtake my at 90 on the M40 :-)

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IT Angle

Re: Lifecycle cost?

My main thought is that aircraft guzzle a hell of a lot of fuel and there's a lot of them. How exactly do you generate that much biofuel to keep the world's aircraft supplied every day? I'm not saying that standard fuel is the best solution but the sheer logisitics and quantities involved with biofuel makes me skeptical.

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Facepalm

A wonderful idea!

Solar cells on an aircraft would be a tremendous boost for the manufacturers of solar cells, though homeowners along the flight path might not appreciate the constant rain of glass and silicon...

Not so great for the passengers would be the consequences of an uncontained engine failure in an engine that's buried inside the fuselage or at the wing root. Converting a serious but controllable failure into the loss of a wing isn't much of a win for anyone.

Also missing form the plan is how these aircraft - launching from short runways via catapults - might then manage to land on those short runways in inclement weather. Arresting wires gear and tail hooks perhaps?

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Wing Root

The comet had many failings, but wings falling off wasn;t one.

I imagine the passion for suspended engines has more to do with maintenance access,

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Re: Wing Root

Did a Comet ever suffer a rotor burst (in testing or in service)?

Genuine question, I don't know.

Modern airliners contain those inside the engine pods, but the pod may be very badly damaged and deformed by the burst.

So I'd also be a bit worried about that idea, as a bent engine pod is not going to seriously affect the lift while a bent wing would.

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Re: Wing Root

It does.

There is no other reason at all. Certainly podded engines are not good for drag.

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Re: Wing Root

The major advantage with having the engine hanging off the front of the wing is that it counteracts the aerodynamic twisting moment. Without the engine there you'd have to build a stronger, heavier wing leading to increased fuel costs etc.

Plus it'd be pretty tricky fitting a Trent 800 or similar high bypass engine into the wing root these days, never mind two of them.

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Re: A wonderful idea!

I'm guessing the solar cells will contribute towards the power requirements of the electrical systems on board meaning less demand for fuel. At cruising altitute, you are usually above the clouds, so it will work most of the time. At night, and in cloudy weather, it would revert to 100% generator powered.

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Re: Wing Root

The major reasons for 'hanging engines' is size. Modern turbo-fan engines are much much bigger than the old turbo jets that were in the old comets. Turbo-fans pass around 90% of the air that flows through LP compression around the edge of the engine and is never combusted. Its not as powerful as a true turbo jet but far more effecient. Turbo jets still appear in performance critical applications like military jets as what the front end does is more relevant than whats coming out the back end:).

However, as has been said, torque and maintenance are all good reasons for hanging engines. Goven the chance though i suspect these benefits could easily be overcome by a reduced effective frontal area if you could ever fit the engines back into the wings.

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Re: A wonderful idea!

They can try inverse phasing, or cross-circuiting to B.... Or, just ordinary anti-grav thrusters to land right on the spot. Or, tractor beams and flight path guides can bring them in during ion stor... Umm, rain storms....

If all else fails, they'd better have a secretly-placed Tantalus Field to wipe out a few specific designers or project managers, hahahaha...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Wing Root

The comet had many failings, but wings falling off wasn;t one.

True, but a couple of them just exploded (explosive decompression) though

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Dirigibles

I have serious doubts about flying by the general public will continue to be possible in the increasingly green political climate. When I look at it from the perspective of a green-weenie, it just makes sense for people to stick to their own neighborhoods and be about their business of slowly starving to death so that Mohter Earth can get on with Her life. Why should a carpenter be allowed fo fly anyway? He should be glad that we even allow him to live, let alone travel by air. Of course, no self-respecting green would ever dare to say such a thing in the open. She will be determined to spin fairytales like the one in this article just to be safe. That way, you will not realize that the things you take for granted today, will be taken away from you in the very near future--things like international travel, for instance. Eat local and in season and we will all be better off, right?

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Windows

Re: Dirigibles

Perhaps the planners should read "The Machine Stops".

It describes a future world where people live underground - each person in their own room. Machines automatically maintain the infrastructure. They rarely need to leave their room as they have a console with which they can select their favourite recorded music - or communicate with other people over a video link.

For employment they use the console to search the world's information stores - which they rehash into new works. For the rare occasions they need to travel long distances there are automatically piloted dirigibles.

Not a H G Wells story - but a more unexpected author - E M Forster in 1909. Available as a free online text.

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Re: Dirigibles

Thanks for the recommendation. Another one for my "books to read some day" list.

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Devil

Re: Dirigibles

Why just dirigibles?

A screen effect monster can deliver a nice in-between - slower than turbojet, much faster than dirigible.

Similarly, it is likely to be considerably more energy efficient than a turbojet as well and there are plenty of routes where I would rather travel for 4-5 more hours but in comfort like transatlantics and transpacifics. In fact, anything over the ocean.

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Re: Dirigibles

Screen effect? Not familiar with that one. Perhaps you typoed "ground effect"?

See "Ekranoplan" (for example) for more.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Dirigibles

Hey, that was somewhat random, but thanks :)

I am often looking for things to add to the pile, I had a look for the story, and found it in "The Phoenix Pick Anthology of Classic Science Fiction" on Amazon, which is on my Kindle for three quid. Some anachronistic early scifi sounds like just the ticket for a change of pace, thank you.

I usually just watch for interesting reviews or corner friends and demand suggestions when I run out of ideas, so you're saving them having to rack their brains.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Dirigibles

Or don't, as Ekranoplans, though they look amazing, have a nasty habit of crashing in a nasty way if they hit a big wave. Such a shame.

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Happy

Re: Dirigibles

Ah. the Caspian Sea Monster.

(Is it just me or does that sound like a good name for pron actor?)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Dirigibles @jake

From Webster's Online Dictionary : "An ekranoplan (Russian: экранопла́н, literally "screen plane") ..."

Or maybe he was thinking in Russian?

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MrT
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Ah, Major Grant...

skaitie pierva rakieta...

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Re: Dirigibles

I think I'll take you up on the recommendation too!

A good book recommendation is always nice.

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Catapults

One thing not mentioned in the slides is that in carrier takeoffs, military aircraft always go to full power before the catapult launches (that's the reason for the blast deflectors) because the catapult is a necessarily one-way process, and if something goes wrong, you need all the power you have to stabilize yourself and not crash into the sea. IOW, catapults are risky but pretty much the ONLY way to launch from a sea-based platform these days without resorting to even riskier VTOL technology. Since aircraft are already at full power before a catapult launch, why bother with it on land (where full power is used to get aloft--AND can be aborted in the event of a problem).

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Re: Catapults

Don't forget the added G forces from the catapult - think of the elderly and small children. Also, they have to beef up the structure to take the loads - increasing the weight of the aircraft.

They will probably go to a low G forcees system - a mild catapult effect to minimize the above problems.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Catapults

Dunno, if they made the seats taller (the head restraints poke me in the neck/shoulder without supporting my head), I'd have to admit that selfishly, I'd rather enjoy the frisson of the g-forces for a short time. Ahem.

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