Commercial Airlines Could Save Millions with NASA Aviation Research

NASA ERA Program

The entire aviation industry works on a simple profit: loss ratio that is heavily dependent on the fuel prices. The higher the prices of fuel, the lower the profit and thus, more expensive will the travelling expenditure be for the consumers. Initially, research focused on making more fuel-efficient planes to increase profits, however that can only take the aviation industry so far. Ultimately, profits are limited by the amount of fuel required and therefore, still remain weighed down by fuel prices. So, now, this industry is concentrating on NASA’s idea of building fleets of aeroplanes that are not reliant on fuel at all. Currently, there are planes available that have a fifty percent lower fuel requirement as compared to the models that are being used now.

If the aviation industry actually partakes of NASA’s research, then the impact of this industry on the environment will reduce significantly. Not only will it reduce air pollution to acceptable limits, it will also cut noise levels to one-eighth its current levels. Besides these benefits, there will be a surge of growth in the industry of aviation that will comprise mainly of vehicles that are less dependent on fuel than their predecessors. Such a development will be a welcome change since fuel efficiency has almost reached its peak. Aircrafts now need to be built so that they are not dependent on fuel rather than utilize the fuel that they are provided with, ultimately creating a positive change in the aviation industry.

If the aviation industry adapts its fleets in accordance to NASA’s models, then the economic impact will go into staggering amounts of savings, ranging from 200 to 250 billion dollars between 2025 to 2050. This period of saving billions of dollars will not begin until 2025 for a simple reason that these models that have been hypothesized by NASA, are just on computers. There are some prototypes, which will have to be adapted to the civil aviation planes and extensively studied, tweaked and further adapted to real world situations. Only then, will the research lead to tangible alterations in the commercial airlines industry.

All this research is under NASA’s Environmentally Responsible Aviation Project (ERA) and the funding goes into millions, with NASA pooling in around 400 million dollars and other groups lending about 250 million dollars. The project that started in 2009 finally saw its completion in 2015. In the time-bound approach, NASA had to do good on its promise to create a more sustainable environment-aviation balance.

Some of the important changes devised by ERA are:

  1. Smaller tails in aeroplane models would reduce drag and air resistance. This would be possible with the help of embedded nozzles, which would blow a continuous stream of air over the vertical air-fin.
  2. Changing the shape of aircraft carriers as we know it, NASA came up with an ingenious method to stitch together the light weight composite parts of a plane, reducing its weight by almost twenty percent.
  3. Reducing drag required further assistance, thus NASA designed a morphed wing technology that would help aircrafts to change wing direction without creating additional resistance or noise. This has already been accepted by the commercial aviation industry and will be in production soon.
  4. Aerodynamics of turbine engines has also been worked on, refining efficiency and design thus enabling a savings of approximately 2.5 percent in fuel burn.
  5. With a goal to reduce emission on nitrogen oxides by 75 percent, NASA went ahead with modifying the jet engine combustor and ended up achieving results close to that of 80 percent. This also has an added benefit of reducing noise pollution.
  6. Future aeroplane designs will have a large influence of the ERA project, since NASA has deduced the possible outcomes of wing flap alterations and improvements in landing and takeoff gears. Computer simulated models have helped research the pros and cons of different design models, helping plane designs mature faster and morph into better versions of themselves.
  7. One radical concept proposed by NASA as a part of this revolutionary project is to inculcate hybrid wings in the design where the wings would be an extension of the body and the engine would be placed on top, at the rear end.
  8. The optimum speed for aircrafts to maximize fuel utilization has also been studied via computer models and will soon be implemented practically once the results are tried and tested.

Lowering pollution has remained one of the key objectives of this project, while lowering fuel dependence is a bonus that they would achieve simultaneously. The project focuses on three aspects to achieve their goals, the airframe and technology behind its construction, propulsion, and vehicle system integration. Until now, this pilot project has yielded favorable results and eight “demonstrations” have been built and sent to the civil aviation research laboratories to enable the integration of their findings into tangible results. NASA will also be giving them the research findings along with the prototypes in order to hasten the process of expanding ERA’s reach into the commercial world. Theoretical knowledge has to be extended into practical applications in terms of wing shape, body designs and propulsion improvement technologies.