Increasing airspace capacity, improving aircraft efficiency and introducing new vehicle types are key goals of the first US national plan for aeronautics research and development until 2020.

Approved by the White House at the end of 2007, the integrated plan establishes aeronautics R&D priorities that are aligned with US policies for mobility, security, safety, energy and environment.

To be updated every two years, the plan establishes fundamental challenges, associated R&D goals and supporting objectives in the near term (less than five years), mid-term and far term (beyond 10 years).

The US plan is equivalent to the strategic research agenda drawn up by the Advisory Council for Aeronautics Research in Europe (ACARE) and intended to realise the objectives of the Vision 2020 report published early in 2001.

Fundamental mobility challenges identified in the US plan include:

  • reducing separation between aircraft to increase traffic density
  • dynamically balancing airspace capacity to meet demand
  • improving weather information
  • increasing airport capacity
  • and introducing new generations of vehicles.

Defining the proper balance of responsibility between the ground and the cockpit, determining appropriate roles for humans and automation, and developing automation that humans can easily interact with - and override - are also research challenges identified in the plan.

The security challenges mainly relate to:

  • increasing platform performance, including improved lift-to-drag ratio for unmanned aircraft and military airlifters
  • increased power-to-weight ratio and reduced noise of rotorcraft
  • reduced fuel consumption
  • and increased power-generation and thermal-management capabilities.

In the field of hypersonics for reconnaissance/strike and space access, the plan calls for the demonstration of sustained, controlled Mach 5-7 flight in the near term, M8-plus in the mid-term and M10-14 in the far term.

Energy and environment R&D goals include: enabling "drop-in" replacement fuels in the mid-term and renewable fuels in the far term enabling energy-efficient operational procedures and fuel-efficient subsonic and supersonic aircraft and developing procedures and technologies to reduce noise and emissions.

To focus research, NASA has defined three generations of aircraft:

  • N+1, the next generation of "tube-and-wing" aircraft that could enter service around 2015
  • N+2, advanced-configuration aircraft for the 2020-25 timeframe
  • and N+3, dramatically improved aircraft for the 2030-35 period.

Compared with today's Boeing 737, the R&D plan aims to enable a near-term fuel burn reduction of 33% for N+1, 40% in the mid-term for N+2 and up to 70% in the far term for N+3. Other research goals would result in reductions of up to 62dB below Stage 4 noise limits and 80% below CAEP 2 emissions standards for N+3 aircraft.

In Europe, ACARE has now produced two iterations of strategic research agenda aimed at enabling the Vision 2020 objectives of increasing airspace capacity and flexibility reducing flight delays and costs achieving a five-fold reduction in accident rates and cutting airport noise, fuel consumption and CO² emissions by 50% and NOX by 80%.

Source: Flight International