Although the prototype design appears unconventional based on the way we currently envision commercial aircraft, MIT is serious: the technology exists to substantially decrease fuel consumption while not compensating performance. Take a look at their proposal, at left, for the future of Boeing’s 737 program.
The new design would have a "double-bubble" shape instead of a single-fuselage cylinder, which would make possible a smaller tail (thus reducing drag) and longer/skinnier wings. Rather than placing the engines on the wings, a "boundary layer ingestion" technique would be employed, allowing the engines to sit at the top rear of the fuselage and draw in slower-moving air that passes over the aircraft. The result: less fuel for the same amount of thrust.
The plane would have to travel about 10% slower than current 737’s travel, but developers contend that the dual-aisle cabin would lead to faster loading and unloading.
What is missing from the article is an analysis of cost. This sounds like a great design, but if raw materials, engineering, and testing costs are too high, it is not even worth discussing further right now.
It is fun to speculate, though. Take a look at the link above for other futuristic aircraft designs, including an update on the 777 and supersonic designs from both Boeing and Lockheed that could be in production in less than 20 years.
In 1990 fuel represented 15% of airlines’ overhead; today that figure is 50%. Saving 70% on fuel cost would save a whopping 35% in overhead costs. Think of all the amenities that would get reinstated!
[re Johb bergrs’ amenities]
Hot Nuts for everyone!
The illustrations show a plane with more windows and the text talks about a double aisle.
So the fuel efficiency is most likely dominated by per passenger as opposed to per mile traveled. Less flights, more pax per flight. At first I thought ‘wow trans pacific in a 737’ but in fact range could be shorter. The 777 looks like a triple barrel. Maybe +1,000 passengers?!
@John: I take a more cynical look–I think prices may stay the same, if we’re lucky, even though airlines will be pulling in more, but no amenities will be reinstated. The baggage fees and BOB are here to stay!
@Michael: That’s an interesting point–the article doesn’t mention how many pax the planes will seat.
I counted the windows and there are more windows in the illustration and the design is a double barrel with an extra aisle. So I think it will carry more pax. Also extra lift means carries more pax/freight especially given that it is 10% slower.