X-Plane… Better than X-Men

Forget about X-Men and say hello to X-Plane. Now, of course, you want to know what the heck it is. X-Planes are NASA projects to produce all different types of aircraft that will be fueled with green energy, constructed of revolutionary materials and featuring innovative designs. Their energy consumption requirements and noise pollution contributions will be cut in half.

In response to Obama’s challenge to the agency to provide clean transportation, NASA launched the New Aviation Horizons initiative. The goal is to unveil experimental aircraft within a decade, hence the “X” of the X-Plane, and green aviation technologies.

Technology demonstrations have been happening for about six years now. With lightweight composite materials, shape changing wing systems, special coatings and revolutionary propulsion systems, researchers are predicting the airline industry will save hundreds of billions of dollars within the first two decades of putting the X-Planes into service.

In the future people will no longer be launched through the heavens in an aluminum tube. Hi-tech composite materials will create a craft where the wings blend into the body and have smart flaps that shape-shift to reduce drag and improve fuel efficiency. Special surface coatings will reduce drag further by making it possible for things like bugs that get splatted, stick and disrupt fine aerodynamics to just slide their slimy guts right off the surface of the aircraft.

Engines will not be limited to being wing or tail mounted. They can also be a part of the fuselage. The gringa envisions literally flying through the clouds, straddling a rocket, bug guts never sticking to my teeth. Preliminary models of super-efficient subsonic aircraft depict elongated fuselages that are twice as wide as the average subsonic aircraft with narrow wings, electric propulsion and an embedded engine.

With the development of an X-Plane that is supersonic, those sonic booms heard from time to time will become a thing of the past, or at least a sonic “poof” is all that will be heard. With a propulsion system fueled by low carbon bio-fuel, aircraft will be much quieter as they break the sound barrier.

Depending on how things go, NASA expects the first of the X-Planes to be in service by 2020. This, of course, all depends on funding, field tests and the cooperation of airports, airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration.

NASA test pilots have already performed successful test flights for the Tecnam P2006T. This Italian production aircraft features electric propulsion and is similar to some X-Planes already in development. One model is a hybrid concept integrating the wings into the aircraft fuselage and engines mounted at the top rear of the plane. The turbofan engines are flanked by two tails that serve as buffers to engine noise.

However, by following the lead of the Italians and focusing on electric propulsion, future commuter aircraft would be environmentally friendly and reduce noise pollution. One such model NASA is working on is called Sceptor (Scalable Convergent Electric Propulsion Technology and Operations Research). This aircraft is based on the Italian produced Tecnam P2006T. However, it is modified to have a different wing configuration that features integrated electric motors. Developers hope to test the performance of both the Tecnam P2006T and Sceptor and compare their capabilities. This goal is probably about three years away.

To test the experimental wings, they mount the wing to the top of an 18-wheeler truck cab and then drive like the dickens through the desert, reaching speeds in the 70 mph range, to simulate a wind tunnel. This allows researchers to gather data on drag, lift, pitching and rolling. I don’t know about you, but driving that truck sounds like fun. The gringa would like to have that job for a day.

Technology, aviation, chemistry, truck driving, computer modeling… the future for our youth has something for everyone. With each generation we need to cultivate the minds of our future scientists and innovators. And, with programs like X-Planes, what an inspiration for kids everywhere!

Source and Image Credit:  www.nasa.gov