Silent Aircraft Readies for Takeoff

LONDON ~ British and US aeronautics experts unveiled plans this week for a new generation of silent aircraft, designed to slash noise output while also slashing fuel consumption.

The single-wing aircraft would hold 250 passengers and use 25 percent less fuel than the current average, said its creators, who hope to have it flying commercially by 2030.

The project “has been a great success in bringing many stakeholders together to study what an aircraft of the future might look like if very low noise was the primary requirement,” said Colin Smith from aircraft engine-making giant Rolls-Royce.

The Silent Aircraft Initiative (SAI) has since 2003 gathered some 40 researchers from the University of Cambridge in England and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as an array of aeronautics-linked firms.

As well as cutting engine noise, the designers focused on adapting the structure of the aircraft, which is responsible for half of the noise a plane creates on landing.

To do this they created a single flying wing, with the body of the aircraft also functioning to give lift, allowing a slower approach which reduces noise as well as improving fuel efficiency at cruising altitudes.

The new plane also does away with flaps, a major source of noise, while the undercarriage has been simplified and its aerodynamics improved. The engines are mounted on the top of the aircraft, to screen much noise from the ground.

Some backers of the project admit to having had doubts at first about its viability.

“My first reaction on hearing of the Silent Aircraft Initiative was profound scepticism,” said Doctor John Green of Greener by Design, which promotes environmentally friendly air transport options.

“Three years on, I have to concede that the SAI has surpassed my expectations by quite a margin. The team has produced a … credible design that is predicted to meet the original target,” he added.

Firms collaborating on the project include British Airways, Boeing and DHL.

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