New NASA and Boeing airliner concept reduces drag and emissions

The Transonic Truss-Braced Wing concept reduces drag, meaning 30 percent lower emissions.
Chris Young
A render of Boeing's sustainable airliners.
A render of NASA and Boeing's sustainable airliner concept.

Boeing 

NASA has partnered with Boeing to develop greener commercial flight technology.

The two organizations will work together on the Sustainable Flight Demonstrator project, according to a NASA statement. It aims to build, test, and fly a single-aisle airliner by the end of the decade that would reduce emissions.

NASA has set a rough deadline of 2028 for the first test flight of the new experimental Boeing airliner, called the Transonic Truss-Braced Wing concept.

In the long run, the space agency aims for the aircraft to serve approximately 50 percent of the short and medium-haul single-aisle commercial market.

NASA and Boeing concept reduces emissions by 30 percent

The Transonic Truss-Braced Wing concept features elongated, thin wings that are stabilized by diagonal struts connecting the wings to the fuselage. The experimental design creates less drag, meaning it also burns less fuel. NASA and Boeing believe their new design could reduce fuel consumption and emissions by up to 30 percent

NASA says the concept will also incorporate other green technologies in NASA's bid to help the aviation industry meet its goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The reason NASA and Boeing decided to work on an emission-reducing single-aisle aircraft is partly down to the fact that single-aisle aircraft account for roughly half of the aviation emissions worldwide, as per NASA. Airlines greatly rely on these types of aircraft for short and medium-haul transport.

That's not to say larger sustainable aircraft aren't being tested. Airbus, for example, recently flew one of its mammoth A380 airliners with 100 percent sustainable fuel. It's worth noting, however, that both the Airbus A380 and Boeing 747 — both large, double-decker aircraft — are no longer being produced, partly due to lower demand and high operational costs. Boeing also estimates that the demand for new single-aisle aircraft will increase by 40,000 planes between 2035 and 2050.

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NASA aims to improve aviation by the 2030s

In NASA's statement, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson alludes to the space agency's contribution to safer air travel over the years. Over the last few years, the agency has also been hard at work bringing its expertise to greener air travel technologies — one example is the experimental X-57 Maxwell electric aircraft.

"Since the beginning, NASA has been with you when you fly. NASA has dared to go farther, faster, and higher. And in doing so, NASA has made aviation more sustainable and dependable. It is in our DNA," Nelson said in the NASA statement.

"It's our goal that NASA's partnership with Boeing to produce and test a full-scale demonstrator will help lead to future commercial airliners that are more fuel efficient, with benefits to the environment, the commercial aviation industry, and to passengers worldwide," Nelson continued. "If we are successful, we may see these technologies in planes that the public takes to the skies in the 2030s."

Ultimately, the 30 percent reduction provided by the Transonic Truss-Braced Wing concept would be one step on the aviation industry's journey to net-zero carbon emissions. Other designs and technologies provide more ambitious emissions reduction statistics, but NASA aims to get this aircraft on the market sooner. Still, NASA emphasizes that this is an experimental, high-risk technology that must undergo a lengthy validation process before any passengers can benefit. NASA has stated it will provide $425 million toward the project, while Boeing and its partners will provide $725 million.

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