The Times November 02, 2005
The future of flying is batwing and it's all to save the planet
By Ben Webster, Transport Correspondent
AIRLINE passengers of the future will have to do without window
seats and fly in giant "batwing" aircraft as a result of aviation
industry proposals to tackle climate change.
Greenhouse gas emissions from flights will continue to increase for
at least another 20 years even under the most optimistic timetable
for introducing these new planes.
But today the industry will present a vision for air travel of the
future in which technology eventually solves the problem. The
Greener by Design group, which includes Airbus, Rolls-Royce and the
Department for Transport, believes that the new airliners will enter
passenger service in 2025 and that, by 2055, they will make up a
third of the world's fleet, or more than 10,000 aircraft.
Known as "flying wings", the new airliners will be based on designs
that were produced by Sir Frederick Handley Page in in Britain 1961.
The entire fuselage would be turned into one wing, which would
create far less drag than a conventional cigar-shaped fuselage.
Engines would sit on top, with the wing shielding the noise from the
Passengers would sit in rows of up to 40 seats across. Only a
handful of the 500 seats would be next to windows but those
passengers lucky enough to get them would have a spectacular forward
view. However, the aircraft would have to bank more gently to avoid
nausea among those seated nearer the wing-tips, on the ends of rows.
Sir Frederick's design was considered too expensive and risky by the
industry in 1961, and he died the next year, a disappointed man.
But his ideas have now been resurrected as the prospect of tough
environmental controls and the rising cost of fuel force aircraft
manufacturers to think more radically.
Boeing is working on designs for a military flying wing that will
serve as a troop carrier or tanker. Cranfield University, in
Bedfordshire, is producing a scale model for Boeing, which will be
used for flight tests.
Airbus is also working on a flying wing design under a four-year,
£20 million research project that is funded by the European Union
and expected to report in 2009.
Professor John Green, chairman of the Greener by Design technology
group, said that flying wings would consume only a third of the fuel
used by existing aircraft. They will be constructed of toughened
plastic, rather than aluminium, to reduce their weight by several
tonnes. The whole outer surface would be covered in millions of tiny
holes, drilled by laser, to reduce drag by sucking in air as it
flows over the wing.
The impact that today's conventional aircraft would eventually have
on the world's climate would be reduced even further by changes in
the way that airlines operate.
All airliners will alter their cruising altitude to avoid the
conditions that form condensation trails, which many scientists now
believe to be more damaging than carbon dioxide emissions because of
the way they trap heat in the atmosphere. Professor Green said that
airliners could also reduce the amount of fuel they burn by flying
in formation, as jet fighters do. Taken together, these changes
would bring total aircraft emissions below their present levels by
2025 despite the expected number of flights being doubled.
The airline industry hopes that the report, which was presented to
officials at No 10 last week, will convince ministers that there is
no need to impose taxes on aviation fuel.
But green groups last night questioned the industry's claim that air
travel could continue to expand without sacrificing the environment.
Jeff Gazzard, co-ordinator of the Greenskies Alliance, said: "The
industry is trying to present a plausible scenario in order to carry
on growing as fast as they can.
"But they have yet to offer a plausible timetable for introducing
"They are trying to imagine their way out of the problem with
artists' impressions that are worthy of Walt Disney. The only
realistic solution is to fly less."
Wednesday, 02 Nov 2005