NASA awards $16.5 million towards research into green technologies for aircraft entering service after 2030

NASA awards $16.5 million towards research into green technologies for aircraft entering service after 2030 | NASA

(photo: MIT)
Wed 6 Apr 2011 – Four industry and academic teams have been awarded contracts by NASA to continue research on technologies that could enable aircraft entering service between 2030 and 2035 to further reduce fuel consumption, emissions and noise. In NASA-speak, this time period is known as N+3, which represents technology three generations more advanced than what is in service today. Under the contracts, teams from Boeing, Cessna, Northrop Grumman and MIT will develop concepts and models that can be tested in computer simulations, laboratories and wind tunnels. The award will allow MIT to move forward with work on its ‘double bubble’ airplane design (right) that attracted much attention when unveiled last year. Meanwhile, NASA researchers are currently testing HRJ biofuel sourced from chicken fat on the agency’s DC-8 aircraft in California.


The four contracts are being funded by NASA’s Aeronautical Research Mission Directorate in Washington, which is conducting the Fundamental Aeronautics Program. The programme’s Subsonic Fixed Wing Project oversees the work at the agency’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and Langley Research Center in Virginia.


The Boeing Research & Technology $8.8 million, three-year award continues the work of the Subsonic Ultra Green Aircraft Research (SUGAR), which has looked at truss-based wing aircraft designs and hybrid electric engine technology. The team will now start collecting ‘higher fidelity’ data on its concepts, and will design, construct and test wind tunnel mock-ups and computer models. It will also study lightweight materials and engine concepts for even more futuristic planes that could fly between 2040 and 2050.


The Cessna Aircraft Company (awarded $1.9 million, 27 months) team will focus on airplane structures, particularly the outer covering where engineers are trying to develop a ‘magic skin’ that can protect planes against lightning, electromagnetic interference, extreme temperatures and object impacts. The Star-C2 Protective Skin would heal itself if punctured or torn and help insulate the cabin from noise. The NASA funding will help the company develop, integrate and test the concept.


The NASA award of $1.2 million over 14 months to Northrop Grumman will aid funding of the design of a smoother leading edge of an aircraft wing without the current standard slats, which could lead to quieter aircraft that consume less fuel at cruise altitudes due to a smoother flow of air over the wings.


The $4.6 million, three-year award to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) will be used to help develop the technologies identified during the first ‘double bubble’ airplane design study (see article) and build a model for testing. The concept is a dual fuselage,  with two partial cylinders placed side by side that would create a wider structure than the traditional tube-and-wing airliner. MIT will also explore the challenges of high-efficiency, small-core engine technology in which engine size does not necessarily have to be increased to improve efficiency in delivering power.


The jet biofuel testing is being undertaken under the same Fundamental Aeronautics Program and involves researchers from NASA’s Glenn, Langley and Dryden facilities, as well as investigators and consultants from other federal organisations and academia. The project, called the Alternative Aviation Fuel Experiment II (AAFEX II), involves testing and measuring performance and emissions on a DC-8 based at the Dryden Flight Research Center in Palmdale, California.


The US Air Force bought thousands of gallons of chicken fat to burn in some of their jets and provided about 8,000 gallons (30,000 litres) to NASA for this experiment, explained Langley’s AAFEX II Project Scientist, Bruce Anderson. His team will test a 50/50 mix of the hydrotreated renewable jet fuel and regular military JP-8 kerosene, biofuel only and jet fuel only.


“AAFEX II will provide essential gaseous and particulate emissions data as well as engine and aircraft systems performance data from operation of the DC-8 on a fuel produced from a renewable resource,” said Glenn’s Dan Bulzan, who leads clean energy and emissions research in NASA’s Subsonic Fixed Wing Project.


In 2009, researchers in the AAFEX I project tested two synthetic fuels derived from petroleum-based coal and natural gas.




NASA – Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate

NASA – Glenn Research Center

NASA – Langley Research Center

NASA – Dryden Flight Research Center



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