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Renming Wang, China

The Next Generation of U.S. Passenger
Planes: Stealth Bombers or Space Shuttles?


By Gao Yijun

Translated By Lauren Christopher

5 November 2009

Edited by Joanne Hanrahan


China - Renming Wang - Original Article (Chinese)

In order to increase airline travel efficiency while at the same time making travel a more peaceful process, a number of American companies are uniting to test a type of “stealth bomber” model as the next generation of passenger planes. Allegedly, by 2020 this new model is predicted to consume up to 40 percent less fuel that the Boeing 777. By 2030, the new models will consume 70 percent less fuel.

Last winter, the U.S. allocated $12.3 million to Boeing, Lockheed Martin and other companies for research and development of the new generation of passenger planes, referred to by its code name “N+3.” The wings of this type of passenger plane resemble gigantic triangles. These wings are not narrow like traditional passenger plane wings; instead, they are based upon the same proportions of a high-speed wind tunnel test model. The triangular wings allow the body of the plane to fly with significantly lower air resistance, thereby increasing the plane's fuel efficiency.

As soon as this new model changes the traditional passenger plane’s design, developers will install the engine into the upper part of the fuselage, increasing the fuel efficiency and significantly decreasing the noise produced. At present, the biggest challenge faced in research and development is how to design the engine with more efficient fluid intake.

Due to this new plane's large body, its internal design is similar to that of an amphitheater. One drawback, however, is that the design leaves fewer window seats available. To make up for the lack of window seats, regular seats are designed to be more comfortable and with “luxury spacing.” By 2023, the U.S. airline industry will retire 4000 planes from use. Eighty-five percent of the materials from the planes will be recycled, including tires, batteries, carbon fiber and various types of hydraulic fluids.

In order to deal with the possibility of another oil crisis, Montana’s Sustainable Oil Company has begun harvesting a special type of camelina sativa (rapeseed), to extract aircraft fuel from rapeseed oil. This type of crop can be symbiotically combined with the standard wheat crop; as such, it will not cause any agricultural disruption. The United States’ airline industry’s experiment with “algae fuel” has also been successful. Currently, the biggest obstacle in extracting material for oil from algae is its cost: $25 per liter, or almost $95 per gallon.

Researchers discovered that algae is rich in oil and grows rapidly, making it entirely possible to serve as a substitute for oil or coal. The oil company giant Mobil states that it will allocate $600 million on algae energy extraction technology. Because of algae’s ability to grow fast and in dirty water and to absorb carbon dioxide, key environmentalist figures look upon its use favorably. However, it costs $5 to produce only $1 worth of fuel, energy from algae will never be anything but “Little Red Flower” technology: deeply desirable, but forever out of reach.

Lockheed Martin is expected to produce a commercial aircraft capable of crossing the Atlantic Ocean in 4 hours by 2015. This improved aircraft will adopt a "double decker" (two component) design, similar to that used by the Space Shuttle. Due to the energy provided by its liquid hydrogen and oxygen propellant, the detachable engine can be used up to 25 times. This plane will launch into low earth orbit and the rocket engine will separate, descending at its designated location for recovery. Refueling preparations will take 1-3 days.

According to reports, the rocket can reach a top speed of 20,000 km per hour (over 12,400 mph) much like the Space Shuttle. Once it has entered space, this aircraft glides through the atmosphere toward its destination, utilizing much less fuel than after its initial launch. The biggest issues that face investment in passenger aviation are issues of safety and key stakeholders' tough requirements regarding profit margins.

If this new model passenger plane can be considered "forward thinking," the investments in high-speed trains, the new model of double deck public transportation, and small private jets will all become the newest "thing" among Western nations, popularizing the concept of green living. Compared with Europe, the U.S. has underused high speed rail systems. Now California is taking the lead, announcing that it is on the verge of constructing a high-speed rail system running from San Francisco to Los Angeles.



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