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Airbus 'plane of the future' will blow your mind

December 03, 2013 08:23 IST

Airbus 'plane of the future' will blow your mind

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The world’s largest supplier of passenger aircraft (in 2011), Airbus has a huge stake in the future of aviation. And so its experts have been looking ahead towards mid-century and imagining what that future might look like in terms of everything from energy sources and air traffic management to new aircraft designs and passengers' in-flight experience.

Here’s an Airbus Concept Plane that illustrates what future air transport could look like if improvements in aircraft materials, aerodynamics, cabins and engines continue apace.

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Bionic cabin structure

Airbus predicts that the aircraft in 2050 will have a bionic structure that mimics bird bones to allow for lighter weight structure and open panoramic views. Bone is both light and strong because its porous interior carries tension only where necessary, leaving space elsewhere.

By using bionic structures, the fuselage has the strength it needs, but can also make the most of extra space where required. This not only reduces the aircraft's weight and fuel burn, but also makes it possible to add features like oversized doors for easier boarding and panoramic windows.

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Transparent cabin membrane

The future cabin's bionic structure will be coated with a biopolymer membrane, suggests Airbus, which controls the amount of natural light, humidity and temperature, providing opacity or transparency on command and eliminating the need for windows.

This smarter structure will make the aircraft lighter and more fuel-efficient while giving passengers 360 degree views of the skies, says the company.

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A panoramic view

An intelligent cabin membrane could become transparent to give passengers open panoramic views, or be dimmed to make sleeping easier. It could also present destination information, track the progress of the journey, or provide virtual views of relaxing landscapes.

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Harvesting passenger heat

Smart seats could harvest passenger's body heat to power aircraft systems such as holographic pop-ups projecting anything from your bedroom at home, a business conference or a peaceful garden.

Energy from body heat could be combined with energy collected from other sources, like solar panels, to fuel aircraft cabin appliances like fridges and lighting.

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Holographic entertainment zone

With holographic technology onboard, passengers could entertain themselves with virtual reality in-flight social activities, such as a virtual game of golf with fellow passengers, people on the ground, or even with passengers in other aircraft.

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Concept Plane Sound Shower

Inspired by nature, the Airbus Concept Cabin illustrates what the future of flight might look like from the passengers' perspective.

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Vitalising Zone Panoramic Day

The Vitalising Zone by Day at the front of the aircraft. An intelligent cabin membrane can become transparent to give passengers open panoramic views.

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Time Lapse Night

The Vitalising Zone by Night: Passengers in 2050 can sit back and enjoy the night sky when travelling to destinations due to bionic structure and interactiv membrane of the Airbus Concept Cabin.

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External Flyaway

Passengers in 2050 can sit back and enjoy the night sky when travelling to destinations due to bionic structure and interactive membrane of the Airbus Concept Cabin.

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Formation flying

It’s not just what we fly in, but also the way we fly that will be critical to the future of aviation. Conserving fuel is a fundamental priority.

In nature, large birds sometimes fly in formation to save energy and travel further. The leading bird’s wings generate whirling masses of air which give following birds free extra lift.

Aircraft wings create the same effect and so military pilots often fly in formation. Airbus’ is looking into the use of formation flying along “express skyways” as a way to reduce fuel burn and emissions on long-haul flights.

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Assisted take-off

Passenger aircraft require huge amounts of engine power, and therefore fuel, to get off the ground and up to cruising altitude. A renewably-powered assisted take-off system, perhaps using electromagnetic motors, could propel aircraft into the air instead, says Airbus.

This system would allow for much lighter aircraft, with smaller engines using less fuel, which could then climb faster to optimum altitude. It would also allow for shorter runways, a key consideration in increasingly crowded megacities.

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Eco-climb

A continuous, very steep "eco-climb" to cruising altitude would further cut fuel use, noise and CO2 emissions, argues Airbus. This would be in contrast to today, when aircraft climb in a series of incremental - and inefficient - stages, which require more fuel.

Eco-climb would also alleviate congestion through greater frequency of take-offs, says Airbus.

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Free-glide approaches and landings

Today’s passenger aircraft descend from altitude in stages and often end up waiting in the air before landing, forced to circle while congested airspace and runways clear. This process of descending, then levelling off, and circling wastes fuel and increases emissions.

Airbus is promoting “free-glide” aircraft approaches and landings whereby the aircraft makes a continuous descent requiring minimum engine power and fuel use, thus lowering emissions and noise pollution. A smoother approach would also reduce landing speed thus enabling shorter runways.

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Low-emission ground operations

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), up to six million tons of CO2 could be saved each year by reduced aircraft engine taxiing on the ground.

Smarter ground operations - such as optimising an aircraft’s landing position and renewably-powered taxiing vehicles - could enable pilots to switch off their engines sooner after landing and allow the aircraft to be quickly towed to the terminal building.

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Biofuels

Jatropha seeds, the oil of which is used to produce biofuel, are seen here in a Mexican lab. Airbus believes that by 2030 biofuels could provide up to 30 percent of all commercial aviation jet fuel.

Biofuels are currently blended with kerosene and over 1,500 commercial flights have been flown on biofuels to date. Now 50:50 blend biofuels have been certified for commercial flights and the goal is a 100 percent aviation biofuel in the future.

Airbus says it encourages the development of second generation biofuels, which avoid competing with food resources. Some possible crops for these biofuels include algae, woodchip waste, camelina, waste produce, and yeast.

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