Air travel has now been with us for more than a century, and over that time designs have evolved from fragile wooden biplanes to supersonic jets capable of intercontinental flight in a matter of hours. Despite this, in the past few decades, the actual form factor of most civilian aircraft has not changed significantly, as much due to economic considerations, as to technical limitations. However, now a wide range of new building techniques and materials are allowing a new generation of radical aircraft designs to emerge. Below we have detailed three of these technologies which could eventually replace the aging jet aircraft:
1. Hybrid Airship
While this may look similar to the Zeppelins of old, a hybrid airship is actually halfway between a Zeppelin and a conventional plane. The airship, while filled with a lifting gas (hydrogen or helium) is not completely lighter than air. Rather, it is specially designed in such a way that the craft itself acts as a giant wing, providing lift like a regular aircraft, so long as its speed is fast enough. These aircraft, while slower than a conventional jet, can carry much larger loads, making them ideal for freight. In addition, due to the lower power necessary to keep the airship in the sky, the craft could be powered by a covering of solar panels, eliminating the need for constant refuelling.
2. Scramjet Aircraft
A scramjet, also known as a supersonic combustion ramjet, is a kind of experimental jet engine technology. In essence, what this tech allows, is for a jet engine to burn compressed air at supersonic speeds by funneling it through a specialized engine. Theoretically, such an engine would allow speeds between Mach 12 (8,400 mph; 14,000 km/h) and Mach 24 (16,000 mph; 25,000 km/h). The problem with this design is that the engines can only work at this speed, and the craft will need some other form of propulsion (possibly a rocket) to first achieve these speeds. Nonetheless, the US military, as well as several university research groups are working on ways to harness these engines for future aircraft.
Thought that the Airbus A380 was big? Then wait till you see the AWWA Skywhale. As the name suggests, this is a huge aircraft designed to carry on the trends within the aviation industry towards ever-larger aircraft. The Skywale concept, created by Oscar Vinals, is an idea for what the plane of the future could look like. Featuring swiveling engines, and 3-tier deck structure, the plane aims to take on-board comfort to a whole new level. The design purposely esques the traditional tube design of current aircraft, in favour of a ‘fatter’ fuselage and a larger wing arrangement, in order to allow for more efficient flying.
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