The Air Cruiser concept itself may not become the airliner of the future, but Ogle Design hopes that many of its ideas will be aboard.
TOM KAREN of Ogle Design has a mission - to make air travel more enjoyable for the mass of ordinary travelers. "If you travel first-class, and pay through the nose," he says, "you get a good quality of service - but most people travel steerage."
In general, he says, "Air travel isn't good for your health - the queuing, the controlling, the searching, the fighting for space in an overhead locker...and then, in economy, you have some bloody awful seat!" Contrast that, he says, with train travel in Europe: "You can take all your luggage on board and lock it away, you can board 5min before departure - why fly?"
This question has added pertinence, as the average age of Western population increases, and more people have more leisure time - but not necessarily money - to spend on travel. It is those people, says Karen, who will eventually demand a better quality of travel, even if it means a slightly higher price.
"At the moment," he says, "if you talk to operators and manufacturers, they say all the money is made up the front, and it doesn't matter what goes on down at the back - but, without people down the back, you wouldn't have an airline."
That may seem all very well as a sentiment - but what can Karen, or anybody else for that matter, do about it? Indeed, can anything be done? Karen feels that it is the potential future Very Large Aircraft (VLA) which offers the real possibilities, with much more space than can be found in today's wide bodies - but only if a radical design is to be adopted. So, Karen has proposed a radical design, the Air Cruiser.
It is not that he professes to be an aircraft designer - he simply wants to demonstrate that there could be approaches, which differ from today's circular-cross-section aluminum tubes fitted with serried ranks of identical seats.
The idea is not, of course, a unique one. Airbus Industrie, for example, has talked openly of a "double-bubble" VLA with two circular cross-sections blended side-by-side, and ex-Editor of Flight International Michael Ramsden proposed a multi-bubble cross section in a lecture to the Royal Aeronautical Society a couple of years ago. Where the Ogle proposal differs from that of Airbus is in the positioning and relationship of the two "bubbles". In the Airbus concept, the double fuselage is faired over top and bottom to form a single oval section, whereas, in the Ogle proposal there is no top fairing and the two sections are displaced relative to each other, to form a kidney-shaped structure, which Karen suggests, could be just as strong while being lighter.
That difference pales into insignificance alongside Karen's other proposals for the shape of his Air Cruiser. A VLA, he says, should not occupy more space at a terminal than an existing wide body, so he proposes a canard layout with a main wing roughly the same size as that of a Boeing 747-400. The fore plane (itself probably the size of the wing of a 737) would be mounted high on the front fuselage, to cause the least possible obstruction at the terminal. At the rear, using twin-canted fins would keep the overall height down to one compatible with today's 747-sized hangars.
Cargo, so important to the airlines, would not be stowed underneath the passenger floors in today's odd-shaped LD containers. Instead, it would be packed in lighter versions of the standard 2.5m-wide ISO containers, perfectly sized for onward road or rail distribution, stored in a square-section spine running down the centre of the aircraft. To save on wasted space for ramps and doors, the containers would be lifted into this spine through a trapdoor in the belly of the aircraft by an integral crane.
The cockpit would be displaced to one side, to leave room for one of Karen's great obsessions - a large (2.5m-wide) doorway, through which people carrying luggage could pass two at a time. What those passengers would find inside would bear more relationship to the interior of a cruise liner than to today's airliner. Instead of a harassed crew directing boarding passengers through a narrow door, down past the galley via a narrow aisle, passengers would be greeted at a reception desk which, once the aircraft was in flight, could double as a bar area.
There would be no overhead bins for carry-on luggage: "Short people can't reach them, they don't have enough room, and people jam things in on top of them," says Karen. Instead, there would be larger, individual, lockers against walls at a convenient height. "I have a hunch that more people will want to take more of their luggage on board - to avoid pilfering, damage, misdirection and the wait at the other end," he says.
The seating areas differ markedly from those of existing airliners: the seats themselves may be angled away from the centre-line, to give better access to those furthest from the aisles. Those aisles my be sunken, so that cabin crew do not have to bend to serve seated passengers. Not that Air Cruiser staff would have to do as much serving as do today's crews anyway: at the back of the aircraft is the key to Karen's concept of an aircraft more like a cruise liner than a tunnel: large public areas including a lounge and a restaurant. "So, instead of waiting like a dummy for a set-piece meal at a set-piece time, you can go to eat when you want," he says.
Another attempt to make more efficient use of space is the use of separate male and female toilets and washrooms. Karen argues that the different sexes have differing needs, with neither of them served well by today's compromise unisex cubicles. His male cloakrooms would have urinals (which would satisfy most users' needs) as well as some cubicles: both sexes would have washbasins separate from the cubicles, as ground-based cloakrooms do. Karen calculates that, if women had twice as much cloakroom space available as did men, the queues for each would be the same, given the current average male/female ratio use on long-haul flights of 65%/35%.
Karen does not claim that he has all the answers to aircraft design for the future. He says: "I won't pretend that 100 people working at Airbus for ten years can't cover more ground than we can, but at least we have some new ideas." The Air Cruiser concept, according to Karen, at least gives Ogle a chance to try out some of those ideas, and present them to the industry.
Source: Flight International