The Silent Plane is Years Away

Boeing, Technology

silentThere is a lot of buzz this morning about the new so-called “Silent Aircraft” that was announced by The Cambridge-MIT Institute. Sure, it’s a great idea, but I wouldn’t get too excited just yet.

Basically, the Institute identified the largest sources of noise from aircraft and then found a way to reduce them through engineering. The result is something looking like a cross between the stealth bomber and a hairdryer (left, source: The Cambridge-MIT Institute)
If you’d like to read a good summary of the noise-saving features, check out this BBC article. One thing this article doesn’t mention, however, is that this aircraft wouldn’t be ready until 2030 at the earliest. That’s a long time from now, and that’s why I’m not too excited.
The main feature of this aircraft is the Blended Wing Body (BWB) concept. In other words, the entire thing acts as a wing, reducing drag and improving lift. Boeing has been working on this for years, and so far the research has yet to bear fruit. The last release I see from Boeing was in May of this year saying they were continuing research with NASA for military purposes, but that was about it. Commercial applications have been rumored from time to time, but there’s never been anything serious.

For passengers, the biggest issue to overcome is the dearth of windows onboard the aircraft. Can you imagine sitting in the middle of that thing? That doesn’t sound like a pleasant flight to me, but maybe others won’t care nearly as much. I mean, turn it into a flying casino, and nobody will care at all. Still, it’s going to be a tough one for passenger acceptance, especially since it does nothing to improve transit time.

For the neighborhoods surrounding airports, however, this would be great news. Aircraft noise is generally the biggest complaint that neighbors have about airports, so if you can solve that, they’d have to find something else to whine about. If they can’t find anything else, they could always move near an oil refinery or a factory and complain about that instead. Just because the refinery has been there for years and years before they arrived shouldn’t stop them from trying to shut it down – it certainly doesn’t stop them from complaining about airports now. But I digress . . .

In the end, this is a pretty cool idea, and if it also yields a 20% fuel savings over the 787’s projected fuel burn, then it’s even more exciting. Then again, I think it’ll have a hard time keepign my interest for the 25 years until first flight.

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