Tomorrow’s engineers give air travel the bird

One radical vision of future air travel according to tomorrow’s engineers is windowless passenger aircraft flying in formation.

These are just some of the ideas proposed within an initiative from Airbus to offer €30,000 for the best idea drawn from proposals. Over 2,000 students in 82 countries took part after the European airframer launched a global competition for new concepts.

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Airbus says it has now narrowed down the entries to five which could lead to useful ways of thinking about aircraft design and engineering.

The proposals include a suggestion from a Spanish university for an eco-efficient windowless cabin. Another shortlisted concept hails from an Australian team from the University of Queensland which has suggested using composite cabin components made out of castor plant natural fibres.

A Czech proposal would use electric motors to taxi the aircraft while Singapore students want to tap solar power for electricity.

Perhaps the most revolutionary concept is a US proposal by students from Stanford University to adapt the “V” formation used by slipstreaming geese where aircraft are separated by minimum distances depending on their size to reduce the risk of collision and prevent turbulence from the wingtips of those directly in front.

“This is not necessarily something we would exploit, but the idea and approach are interesting and the analysis is of high quality,” says Airbus.

Indeed the European think-tank Out of the Box also looked at formation flying (see above image from our Future Concepts gallery) and concluded that obstacles to fuel-efficient tight formation flying in the classic V formation would be the adverse effects from weight dependent vortices from the wings of the lead aircraft.

Vortices are a function of weight and commercial airliners are substantially heavier than all other aircraft that have attempted close formation flying. Conceptually, the benefits are considerable however and long range travel could be substantially more economical with cruise fuel savings up to 40%.

As far as windowless cabins go, OOTB boffins reckons the idea is especially interesting with regards to studies being currently conducted on blended wing aircraft where passengers would probably be seated well away from any windows.

Not only would the absence of windows increase flexibility of cabin design and layout, but virtual reality simulations could easily be employed to represent the flight in progress at different altitudes and even over different terrain.

Airbus says it launched the contest to challenge students in to seek innovative and green-friendly ideas that could ultimately shape the future of aviation.

The five finalists who will present their ideas to a jury at the Paris Air Show in June are:

 - The “Big Bang Team” from Universidad Politécnica de Valencia in Spain for its windowless cabin proposal for a new eco-efficient aircraft design.

-  “COz” from the University of Queensland, Australia for its proposal on the use of bio composite cabin materials made from castor plant natural fibres.

- “Kometa Brno” from Brno University of Technology in the Czech Republic whose team developed a project on aircraft taxiway movements using electro-motors.

- “Solaire Voyager” from the National University of Singapore, selected for its solar cell technology project integrating photovoltaic cells aboard aircraft to generate electricity.

- “Stanford ADG” from Stanford University in the USA for their proposal on inverted V formation flight, building on the model of migrating birds to reduce energy consumption.

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