Aviation boost through box-wing design
Increase capacity, reduce fuel consumption, curb pollution? If they were based on a box-wing design, aircraft of any given wingspan could achieve more with less, say EU-funded researchers who are preparing this technology for take-off. The concept they are proposing is referred to as a 'PrandtlPlane'.
© DICI Pisa University, 2018
Roomier, greener and less expensive to run according to the researchers involved in the EU-funded project PARSIFAL, the PrandtlPlane concept ticks all the right boxes for the future of aviation. Box-wing architecture would improve planes of any category without affecting their wingspan, says project coordinator Aldo Frediani of the University of Pisa, Italy.
Less than a year on from PARSIFALs launch in May 2017, Frediani reports that the project is about to reach a major milestone. The structural configuration of the PrandtlPlane has been defined, he explains, and the team is building a scale model of the proposed craft, which it is due to present at two major events in April.
PARSIFAL focuses on the mid-size category suitable for handling at regional airports, says Frediani. Instead of 180 passengers or so, the box-wing analogue it is designing could carry more than 300 while remaining manageable for these facilities, he notes. It would, in fact, offer significant advantages in terms of ground operations.
We are planning for larger isles and three sets of built-in stairs, he says. These features will enable passengers to embark and disembark faster, which saves time, and reduces costs both for airport operators and for airlines.
The shape of planes to come
All these advantages derive from the PrandtlPlanes defining feature: the box-wing design proposed a century ago by the German scientist for whom the concept is named. Its not a new idea, but one whose potential in aeronautical engineering hadnt yet been reached, says Frediani.
A box-wing is a particular type of closed-wing design. Viewed from the front, the wings outline a rectangle, Frediani explains.
There are the two horizontals typical of a biplane, but the tips of the wings are connected with proper vertical wings, he notes. Due to this special configuration, this kind of aircraft is more efficient than a conventional one.
The PrandtlPlane with its improved aerodynamics would consume less fuel and generate fewer emissions in general, he explains. In particular, he adds, it would cause significantly less pollution in airport areas, as it is especially efficient at the low speeds involved during take-off and landing.
PARSIFAL is already engaging with industry via its advisory board, Frediani notes, but participation in the two upcoming events will be a chance to reach out on a much larger scale.
We will be able to show everyone what the aircraft of the future will look like according to us, of course, he says.
And by the time the project ends, in April 2020, the partners are hoping to complete the full structural and aerodynamic design of the PrandtlPlane. In addition, they intend to produce an overview of the new configurations prospective performance compared to current aircraft and to the planes that are likely to be in flight within the coming decades.
The data will be available for everyone to discuss, Frediani says.
Industry investments will then be needed to take the proposed plane from the computer into the skies. If the idea is picked up by an aircraft manufacturer straight away, planes based on the PARSIFAL design could be in flight within 20 years or so, says Frediani.
New models in aviation have a lead time of at least 10 years to receive certification and fly if they are based on existing configurations, he explains.
For a design based on a different concept, the various steps involved would take longer. Then again, says Frediani, the technology involved isnt actually new.
We are starting from systems, structures, materials, engines and so forth that are already available, he says.
The box-wing concept could eliminate a number of constraints for the configuration of these components, Frediani adds. It would, for example, allow for engines to be mounted on the sides of the fuselage rather than under the wings.
This specificity means that larger, more efficient engines could be used and that the design would be able to accommodate likely future developments in propulsion technology, he notes. Frediani and his colleagues look forward to discussing these new possibilities with industry.