Feeds

UK scientists seek silent aircraft

£2.5m project examines hush-hush airliner

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Bridging the IT gap between rising business demands and ageing tools

Today saw the launch of an ambitious £2.5m, three-year project led by Cambridge-MIT Institute (CMI) - the Silent Aircraft Initiative (SAI). Its plan is pretty simple: to produce aircraft "whose noise emissions would barely be heard above the background noise level in a typical built-up area".

The initiative boasts an impressive manifest of partners, including British Airways, the Civil Aviation Authority and Rolls-Royce. It also aims to consult representatives of community groups opposed to aircraft noise - a sensible move given the current brouhaha over the proposed extension to London's Stanstead Airport and ongoing protests surrounding increased air traffic at Heathrow.

According to Cambridge SAI professor Ann Dowling - quoted on the SAI website - "The civil aviation industry is already introducing small, incremental decreases in aircraft noise. But we are aiming for a radical change in noise levels - so that beyond the perimeter of the airport, the noise of aircraft flying would be imperceptible to the public."

All well and good, but how? We asked project manager Paul Collins if the research would centre on existing jet turbine technology, or would it embrace newer, more radical solutions? He confirmed its radical nature, but noted that "it still flies and carries passengers and yes, it's still powered by gas turbines".

This is an interesting line of attack, and one completely different to that adopted by NASA and its scramjet-powered Hyper-X programme, which the agency hopes will eventually promise "to increase payload capacities and reduce costs for future air and space vehicles". It's also a big leap from other current gas turbine-driven developments. The Boeing 7E7's main techie selling point is its composite materials body and wings. Its principal commercial appeal lies in a quoted 20 per cent fuel saving over other equivalent aircraft.

Airbus's A380, in contrast, is going for the "more is more" approach, packing 555 paying punters into two decks. However, both the A380 and 7E7 are simply technologically-advanced offspring of a tried-and-trusted design concept.

SAI is approaching the commercial airliner from another tack - its fundamental consideration being noise rather then necessarily capacity or pure fuel economy. Tackling this key issue centres around "making the aircraft as slippery as possible," according to Collins. This points to a blended wing concept, with the engines incorporated into the aircraft's structure. Collins explained that, for example, an aircraft coming into land at 600mph has to dissipate a lot of energy - around eight megawatts - and extruding structures such as engines and undercarriage generate a hell of a racket.

The design is just part of the plan. Collins spoke of "new operational procedures" which might contribute to an overall noise level reduction. MIT in the US is already investigating how alterations to an airliner's glide path into an airport might have a beneficial effect on the ears of those below.

In the end, though, the proposal must "buy itself into the airlines". There's little point developing a stealthy passenger-carrier if the operators won't touch it, as Collins acknowledges. In short, it has to fit in with the existing infrastructure.

And as for Mother Earth, Collins is adamant that any future airline innovations must address environmental considerations: "The effects [of jet engines] on the environment are not fully understood. We are planning outreach activity to raise the profile of the debate so that people become more aware of what the issues are."

An overview of the SAI is available here. Collins asked us to note that the website is currently awaiting expansion to cover all aspects of the various teams' research. ®

Related stories

A380 Airbus suffers Virgin knock-back
Airbus behemoth faces the press
NASA scramjet ready to roll
Reader flak brings down flying car
Wright Brothers' centenary provokes aviation speculationfest

Mobile application security vulnerability report

More from The Register

next story
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
All those new '5G standards'? Here's the science they rely on
Radio professor tells us how wireless will get faster in the real world
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Microsoft's anti-bug breakthrough: Wire devs to BRAIN SCANNERS
Clippy: It looks your hands are shaking, are you sure you want to commit this code?
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.