NASA and Boeing Develop New Fuel-Efficient Aircraft Capable of Reducing Emissions up to 30%

Photo by Reinaldo Kevin on Unsplash

NASA and Boeing have teamed up to develop a new experimental aircraft targeting to cut air travel emissions by 30%.

The design Transonic Truss-Braced Wing (TTBW) has been under development for more than a decade as part of the Sustainable Flight Demonstrator (SFD) program. Transonic truss-braced wings include ultra-thin wings braced by struts with larger spans and higher aspect ratios. By creating less drag when it flies, this wing shape can save fuel.

The Transonic Truss-Braced Wing Concept

Single-aisle aircraft account for nearly half of the worldwide aviation emissions due to their high-cycle utilization. Combined with new technology and enhancements to various systems such as propulsion, NASA, the single-aisle airplane with a TTBW configuration can reduce fuel consumption and emissions by up to 30 percent compared to today’s single-aisle airplanes. 

The X-66A, as the resulting experimental aircraft will be known, will use the airframe of a McDonnell Douglas MD-90, a single-aisle passenger jet. They will modify a Boeing MD-90 airplane in Palmdale, California.

NASA and Boeing have previously committed a total of $1.15 billion to the seven-year Sustainable Flight Demonstrator program, with NASA contributing $425 million and Boeing and its industry partners investing $725 million. 

In addition to the funding, NASA will contribute technical expertise and facilities to the demonstrator aircraft program, though it will not procure an aircraft or other hardware for its missions. The program is enabled under a Funded Space Act Agreement through which NASA can leverage private industry knowledge and experience to progress aviation efficiency initiatives.

A Carbon-Neutral Aviation Industry in the Future

As the United States has set a goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from the U.S. aviation sector by 2050, the X-66A, scheduled to fly in 2028, holds the goal of driving the decarbonization of the aerospace industry and paving the way for greener, cleaner, and quieter aircraft.

The Sustainable Flight Demonstrator project is part of NASA’s Integrated Aviation Systems Program, and one of the main elements of the Sustainable Flight National Partnership, focusing on developing new technologies for more sustainable air transport. 

Not only that, NASA has also worked with partners in other segments of the air transport industry, such as electric aviation start-up Ampaire and aircraft engineering and modification group Ikhana to convert turboprop DHC Twin Otter aircraft to hybrid electric propulsion.

Ashton Henning

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