Hybrid wing uses half the fuel of a boring old normal plane

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first_imgMost of the airplanes ever produced follow the same basic design guidelines. They’re essentially big metal cylinders with wings bolted on. This is not the most elegant or efficient design, but it’s very easy and cheap to build. NASA, in conjunction with aerospace firms Pratt & Whitney and Boeing, has been working on a new “hybrid wing” design that could change the economics of flight dramatically by saving up to 50% on fuel.While the tube-shaped planes we all use are easy to produce, fuel usage is higher than it should be because they’re just so heavy and only marginally aerodynamic. A hybrid wing has long been seen as superior, except that construction costs are higher and it’s a challenge to design a structurally sound internal cabin for passengers.NASA has been slowly ramping up the size of its remote controlled test craft, including the 6-meter wide X-48B. A new type of construction technique has proven successful so far. NASA’s manufacturing process begins with pre-molded carbon rods. These rods make up the structure of the aircraft with carbon fiber fabric stretched over top. Dense foam strips are used to create cross beams, and then the whole thing is coated with an epoxy compound that dries into a rigid frame.So this method obviously takes care of the weight issue, but how durable is it? Testing shows that the finished material can withstand all the forces associated with flight, and it also resists widespread cracking when it does exceed its limits. A larger version of the hybrid wing is in testing now.The other side of the research has to do with advanced engines that complement the more lightweight and aerodynamic design. NASA is working with ultra-high bypass engines in the prototypes. These engines have much larger intake fans on the front when compared to the core of the engine where combustion takes place. An ultra-high bypass engine can be much more efficient, but has to be mounted to the top of the aircraft due to size.Final testing of the manufacturing process is expected to be completed in 2015. At that point, the hybrid wing design might finally be scaled up and start saving fuel.via Technology Reviewlast_img

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