NASA and Boeing team up to help fuel-efficient aircraft soar

19 Jan 2023

A concept image of the transonic truss-braced wing aircraft being developed by NASA and Boeing. Image: Boeing

The two companies are working on a new aircraft design, with the goal of bringing more fuel-efficient aircraft to the public by the 2030s.

NASA has awarded Boeing a contract to develop a new generation of fuel-efficient, single-aisle commercial aircraft.

The two companies will work on the Sustainable Flight Demonstrator project, which aims to build and fly a full-scale demonstrator aircraft. This prototype vehicle will be tested to see if new technologies can reduce aircraft emissions.

The project is estimated to cost roughly $1.1bn over the next seven years, with NASA contributing $425m while Boeing and its partners invest the remainder. NASA will also provide technical expertise and facilities to assist the project.

Due to their heavy use in the aviation industry, NASA said single-aisle aircraft account for nearly half of the industry’s global emissions. The agency aims to complete project testing by the late 2020s, in the hope that these new designs will be used in new aircraft by the 2030s.

NASA associate administrator for the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, Bob Pearce, said the “ambitious goal” is also linked to the broader aviation goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

“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,” said NASA administrator Bill Nelson.

“If we are successful, we may see these technologies in planes that the public takes to the skies in the 2030s.”

NASA and Boeing will work on creating a transonic truss-braced wing aircraft. This concept involves an aircraft with extra-long, thin wings that are stabilized by diagonal struts.

This design shape is expected to save fuel by creating less drag when it flies due to its wing shape. Combined with new technology and enhancements to various systems such as the propulsion, NASA hopes the new aircraft will reduce emissions and fuel consumption by 30pc.

Boeing CTO Todd Citron said the aircraft company has been advancing a “multipronged sustainability strategy” that includes fleet renewal, advanced technologies and renewable energy to help meet the industry’s 2050 net-zero goal.

“The Sustainable Flight Demonstrator builds on more than a decade of NASA, Boeing and our industry partners’ investments to help achieve these objectives,” Citron said.

Earlier this month, founder and director of the ZE-Aviation Alliance, Siobhan Dolan Clancy, spoke to about the benefits of sustainable aviation fuel in reducing emissions, along with the challenges that come with producing these green fuels.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic