Skip to comments.'Muppet planes' on drawing board (Enviro-friendly aircraft get look from Boeing)
Posted on 06/06/2006 7:13:58 PM PDT by SandRat
SEATTLE When Boeing names an airplane design after a Muppet, it must be pretty different.
Two small teams at the company are re-imagining the airplane in futuristic configurations that sprout wings, tails and engines in unexpected shapes and places.
The research, illustrated in internal documents, aims in two directions: low-cost airplanes, and environment-friendly planes that will be quieter, use much less fuel and leave fewer pollutants in the upper atmosphere.
In the latter category is the "Kermit Kruiser," a low-noise concept airplane with main wings radically swept forward rather than back, and sporting miniature wings on the front.
Then there's the "Fozzie." It has a "Pi-tail" two vertical tails joined by a piece across the top, and sips fuel because it flies slower using open-rotor jet engines that resemble the old-style propellers.
The concepts are "intended to help us focus technology on a future out beyond the horizon," said Dan Mooney, Boeing vice president of product development, who directs both research teams.
The documents show Boeing has looked at other concepts as well: a supersonic business jet; a megasize freighter; airplanes that use biofuels or hydrogen; and even a "reduced crew" airliner one with no windows in the cockpit, judging by a sketch in the Boeing documents.
But of all the potential concepts, Boeing has prioritized the "low-cost" and the "green" planes for further research this year. Both teams have begun work with engine companies on the various propulsion alternatives.
The Boeing documents include assessments of very similar research projects that its rival Airbus has sketchily mentioned at scientific conferences. In an interview, Mooney declined to discuss proprietary details of the designs but offered insight into what his research teams are up to.
He said the latest airplanes being sold today, such as the 787, are designed to meet airlines' projected requirements for about the next two decades. Designers strike a balance among cost, fuel efficiency, capacity, range and other factors based on those projections.
His concept teams, however, think "out beyond 15 or 20 years," where fuel costs, noise or other factors may become more important and reshape what airlines want. "We need to be developing technology today to allow us to be ready for those uncertainties in the future." The low-cost team, documents show, is studying the benefits of options such as long, thin wings and new engine types. That team has not yet envisioned new structural designs, however.
In contrast, the Green Team, with a broad mandate to address diverse issues of fuel burn, noise and emissions, has considered some widely differing airplane structures each with its own whimsical code name. (The Muppet theme may be a reference to the song Kermit sang on "Sesame Street": "It's not easy bein' green.")
* "Kermit Kruiser": Low noise. The engines sit atop a twin-fin tail, so that the noise is reflected upward. The wings are placed so far back they join the fuselage right at the horizontal stabilizer. And most radically, the wings sweep forward, not back, lowering aerodynamic drag and increasing maneuverability at the price of some stability. Keeping this tail-heavy aircraft stable in flight requires a canard those mini-wings up front. The plane would be a wide-body seating nine abreast.
* "Fozzie": Ultra-low fuel burn. The airplane is designed to cruise at a much reduced speed 500 mph rather than the typical 600-plus mph of current jets. That would add an hour to the typical transcontinental flight.
Attached to a tail with twin vertical fins and a crossbar (called a Pi-tail because it resembles the Greek letter pi) are engines with an "open rotor" or "unducted fan" design.
The plane has a fanjet gas-turbine engine of the sort used on airliners today, but without the usual duct encasing the fan, Mooney confirmed. At slower speeds, this offers great fuel efficiency.
One internal drawing shows the rotors on the back of the engine; another shows them on the front, the more usual position.
* "Beaker": Low emissions. This airplane has the low fuel burn and same low cruise speed of Fozzie. It has low-emission engines and long, very narrow wings perpendicular to the fuselage. The wingspan is such that the wings must fold to fit an airport gate.
* "Honeydew": Low fuel burn. Another wide-body, this aircraft seems to be a meld of the traditional "tube-and-wing"-shaped airliner and the often-touted "Flying Wing" design that produced the B-2 bomber.
The resulting delta-shaped wing blends in a graceful curve into the fuselage. Yet there is still a distinct fuselage at the front.
The Flying Wing design is more aerodynamically efficient. One disadvantage is that most passengers are far from a window. Honeydew appears to be an intriguing compromise.
Since April, Boeing's Phantom Works research unit, in collaboration with NASA and the U.S. Air Force, has been doing wind-tunnel tests on a small-scale, 21-foot-wingspan prototype of a Flying Wing or Blended Wing Body aircraft concept. Flight testing of the prototype is planned for later this year.
The Air Force is interested in the design's potential as a long-range, high-capacity military aircraft. So how realistic are these cool-looking airplanes? "When you look at where energy costs are going in the next decade, it could be time for a change in the rules," said Jerry Ennis, a retired vice president at Boeing's Phantom Works who worked on prototypes.
Like the Detroit carmakers who wheel out fanciful concept cars that never reach the showroom, Boeing may never build an airplane that looks like any of these images.
Still, Mooney said, "Most likely there'll be parts of the technology or parts of the configuration that will find their way onto products of the future."
Just reusing designs that have been around a long time.
I feel safe now.
Wel then, we might as well close the patent office because everything that could possibily be invented has already been invented.............. ;o)
"Kermit Kruiser"? Is he back in PD now? I thought he went to Field Service.
i'll be so glad when this "extraodinary popular delusion" -- the cult of environmentalism -- has passed and sanity has returned.
If you want on or off my aerospace ping list, please contact me by Freep mail.
Boeing discovers the folding wing. Grumman invented it for the Navy in the 1930s.
Kermit Kruiser looks like the Sonic Cruiser redone..
Funny how people are opposed to any kind of conservation, but content to send money to our Arab "friends" to buy oil.
The Fozzie has a tremendous wetted area in its tail, but still most of the tail would be blanketed by the fuselage at high angle of attacks.
The Kermit cruizer has a canard to screw up the air, so the main wing will have higher drag at cruise. It also can, at high pitchup rates, stall both canard and main wing.
Kermit: "Bear left."
Fozzie: "Right, frog."
If they made the plane more comfortable then they might have a winner.
Slightly more space for the same ticket price as the faster planes and they would sell seats.
Automobiles, trucks, construction equipment, stationary power generators and motorcycles are all going to be required to have pollution controls within the next 5 years. Why are aircraft exempt?
The fact of the matter is your typical jetliner emits more smog-producing pollutants in one minute of operation that 1,000 modern automobiles will emit in a year. And yet we are beating our brains out making LEVs and ULEVs and SULEVs, while jet aircraft fly overhead, without a care.
Field Service got outsourced to China so Kermit was surplused.
It sounds like a B-17 when it flies over.
That may have been acceptable in 1944, but in 2006, no way.
UDF's are deader than than dead. They looked so good on paper....
Me? Are you talking about me?
What wanton presumption you exercise to make such a remark! How would you know what I'm "content" to do?
I'm opposed to the Cult of Environmentalism. I am not opposed to sound economic practice. In fact, it is my profession.