Future aircraft developments

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A number of ideas are being worked on for future aircraft developments. Some are new, some have been tried before but may prove more practicable with modern technology. History tells us that many of these projects will come to nothing, but a few will set new standards in the future

Radical aircraft designs

  • Blended wing body designs date from the early postwar era. Research on updated designs is under way at Boeing and Cranfield University
  • In addition to blended wing body designs, Flying wing-designs also offer similar benefits and have had interesting new technologies as counter acting airbrakes (folding open both above and under the wing).
  • The AeroVironment SkyTote fixed wing, VTOL aircraft is another type of radical rethinking on aircraft construction. It focuses on building an aircraft that has moderately good VTOL properties as well as the flight advantages of a regular fixed wing aircraft.
  • The Peebles Fanwing is a new approach to lift, and is benefiting from investment by the UK and Italian Governments.
  • Another radical new aircraft design that is being relooked for the environmental advantage it can bring are flettner airplanes
  • L/P Driver is a Lift and Propulsion System being developed by Velarus, providing utility and transport designs with near ground operation similar to helicopters while capable of jet speeds at altitude, including the possibility of supersonic design.

New engine technologies

  • Pratt and Whitney’s Geared Turbofan) is a cross between a turbojet and a turboprop.
  • Solar and human powered propulsion-aircraft are being worked on. Aircraft like the Solar Impulse, Helios, Pathfinder and others prove that zero emission airplanes are possible, yet translating the concept to the more heavy airplanes (eg transport airplanes, …) is proving hard.
  • Alternative fuels for aircraft have received limited attention. Hydrogen is perhaps the most obvious alternative to existing kerosene/gasoline-type fuels, but the technical and infrastructural challenges inherent in developing a commercially usable hydrogen-powered aircraft are huge. The Russian manufacturer Tupolev built a prototype hydrogen-powered version of the Tu-154 airliner, named the Tu-155, which made its first flight in 1989.

Aerodynamics technologies

  • Boundary layer suction has long been a subject of research. The technique works, but has traditionally consumed so much power that it was not worth doing. The necessary internal ducting is another problem. Work continues at TU Delft.

Targeted programmes

  • The Silent Aircraft Initiative being conducted by Cambridge-MIT is studying a range of technologies.
  • The Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST) is being conducted by NASA
  • The CleanEra-project is being conducted at TU Delft and also targets to make a completely “green” aircraft.

Bionics research

Trough the field of bionics, new aircraft designs with far greater agility and other advantages may be created. This has been described by Geoff Spedding and Anders Hedenström in an article in Journal of Experimental Biology. Similar statements were also made by John Videler and Eize Stamhuis in their book Avian Flight and in the article they present in Science about LEV’s. John Videler and Eize Stamhuis have since worked out real-life improvements to airplane wings, using bionics research.

This research in bionics may also be used to create more efficient helicopters or miniature UAVs. This latter was stated by Bret Tobalske in an article in Science about Hummingbirds. Bret Tobalske has thus now started work on creating these miniature UAVs which may be used for espionage. UC Berkeley as well as ESA have finally also been working in a similar direction and created the Robofly (a miniature UAV)and the Entomopter (a UAV which can walk, crawl and fly).


  1. Flying wing aircraft
  2. Tupolev.ru
  3. TU Delft CleanEra-project
  4. Avian Flight book
  5. Videler, Stamhuis and Povel LEV-article in Science-magazine
  6. Bret Tobalske’s Hummingbird-research
  7. Robofly UAV
  8. ESA’s biomimetics program