Return of NASA's X-Plane Program
Categories: technology, environment
What? NASA’s recently announced New Aviation Horizons program aims to develop aircraft that use 50% less fuel, produce 75% fewer emissions and are notably quieter than current vehicles. The key to this are six "X-plane" experimental technology demonstrators. The first, the X-57, is propelled by a battery of small electric motors. Funding has also been announced for a study on a double-wide fuselage aircraft design that could cut fuel burn by 71 percent, cut NOx emissions by 87 percent and reduce noise by 50 times compared to a best-in-class Boeing 737-800 narrow-body aircraft. The X-planes will also include a bio-fueled supersonic jet with sonic booms unnoticeable at ground level.
So what? Passenger air travel as well as air freight could increase without a rise in fossil fuel consumption or pollution. Cleaner and quieter aircraft able to operate around-the-clock in densely populated areas without complaints from residents could impact urban planning and logistics infrastructure if large peri-urban airports are replaced by smaller, more numerous urban airports. Advances in design and manufacturing, material strength-to-weight ratios and propulsion systems developed for aviation could be used in other transportation or engineering applications with similar environmental and economic benefits.