If you think aircraft in the future will look like and operate like those we now find familiar, let me try to dissuade you of that.
There are technologies converging that are clearly going to change the essentials of the flying process and experience. Consider these.
The FAA has now cleared the first 3D printed part to fly in a commercial jet engine. GE Aviation, which is making the fuel nozzle for a new generation of jet engine. They say that the 3D-printed nozzles are five times more durable than the previous model. 3D printing allowed engineers to use a simpler design that reduced the number of brazes and welds from 25 to just five.
They have also run a 3D printed micro jet turbine up to 33,000 rpm, marking the first known test of a jet engine built using additive manufacturing.
The CMC parts help with weight and heat management. They are two-thirds lighter than the metal equivalent and can operate at temperatures 20 percent higher than their metallic counterpart, at levels where most alloys grow soft.
GE claims that it will be manufacturing 100,000 additive parts by 2020 (five years from now). Already they have over three hundred 3D printing machines currently in use throughout the company.
Do you think that that capability will find its way into GA? Of course it will.
Advanced cabin displays
Would you like a biz jet without windows? Something like this?
You might if the inside looked like this:
Technicon Design’s Paris office designed the jet to display to 360-degree views that are simulated on internal screens from external cameras that capture the surrounding environment in real time, according to the Daily Mail.
Fox News said the images displayed in the interior cabin—including the walls and even the ceiling—give passengers the feeling of flying through the air in an invisible vessel.
You will be able to project anything on these screens . . . when you get tired of the view outside!
The Airbus Group’s electric E-Fan experimental aircraft made its first public test flight at E-Aircraft Day in Bordeaux, France recently. The electric E-Fan training aircraft is an innovative technology experimental demonstrator based on an all-composite construction.
Their website says Airbus Group plans to further develop the E-Fan technology demonstrator and to produce and market two versions of the aircraft by a subsidiary named VoltAir. The two-seater version E-Fan 2.0 will be a fully electric training aircraft powered only by batteries. The four-seat version E-Fan 4.0 will be a training and general aviation aircraft which will also have a combustion engine within the fuselage to provide an extended range or endurance.
Airbus sees this as the early experience in design and industrialization of an “E-Thrust” hybrid electric regional aircraft in about the 2050 timeframe.
But those are just little “experimental” engines, you say. Well, how about this:
Big, light electric motors
Gizmag reports that “researchers at Siemens have created a new prototype electric motor specifically designed for aircraft that weighs in at just 50 kg (110 lb) and is claimed to produce about 260 kW (348 hp) at just 2,500 RPM. With a quoted power five times greater than any comparable powerplant, the new motor promises enough grunt to get aircraft with take-off weights of up to 1,800 kg (2 ton) off the ground.”
Siemens says that new simulation techniques and sophisticated lightweight construction have enabled the drive system to achieve a unique weight-to-performance ratio of five kilowatts (kW) per kilogram (kg). Comparable electric motors that are used in industrial applications deliver less than one kW per kg. The performance of the drive systems used in electric vehicles is about two kW per kg. Since the new motor delivers its record-setting performance at rotational speeds of just 2,500 revolutions per minute, it can drive propellers directly, without the use of a transmission.
So think about that a minute. How much does your Cessna weigh? (Certainly less than 4,000 pounds I’d guess.) And how many hundreds of pounds does your engine weigh? (The engine in my airplane that generated 350hp was over 800 pounds!)
This little motor will really drive your plane through the air.
Flexible geometry control surfaces
But wait! Even conventional control surfaces are going away.
NASA is doing away with ailerons and flaps! They and the Air Force Research Laboratory and FlexSys are making wings that smoothly change their shape between a range of -2 to 30 degrees to generate the directional inputs for flight. Watch the video here.
These new variable geometry control surfaces increase efficiency and decrease noise. Right now the process is mechanical, but ultimately, material science has already developed the basic materials that change their configuration based only upon electrical signals to material.
These advances are just the beginning—the leading edge—of far more breakthroughs that will dramatically change what it means to both be a pilot and to fly.