Aircraft Design

Background

Additional research on aircraft design is also conducted by other colleagues in the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics — for example this “double bubble” design for a NASA N+3 civil transport aircraft.

Aircraft design is an essential element in the effort to reduce aviation’s environmental impact. Researchers, designers, and manufacturers are advancing aerodynamics, structures and materials, control systems and propulsion in order to make planes cleaner, quieter, and more efficient.  In the last 50 years, these advancements have been successfully achieved predominantly by evolutionary improvements in aircraft designs, but there are also solutions around which would radically change aircraft configurations (such as the “double bubble” design shown in the picture on the right).

In addition to the options mentioned above, configuring aircraft and engines that support the use of alternative fuels has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas and air quality-related emissions while diversifying energy supplies. However, some of these fuel options such as liquid natural gas (LNG) require modifications in terms of aircraft and engine design and, therefore, come at an additional cost.

Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment aircraft design research

The Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment is currently investigating the technical, environmental and economic challenges for introducing a fleet of aircraft that burn LNG as a second fuel in a hybrid Jet A-LNG configuration. It has developed system-level solutions on how aircraft could be retrofitted to accomodate dual fuel-use. The laboratory has advanced computational tools to evaluate the performance of dual-fuel use aircraft and to assess the full environmental and ecomomic impact of deploying these aircraft.

Outcomes and applications

Solutions on how to accomodate LNG as a supplemental fuel in existing aircraft are still in their early stages and the feasibility and viability of dual fuel-use needs to thoroughly assessed. Our research gives important advice to aircraft manufactures and operators, and may lead to a new type of aircraft entering the fleet – with long-lasting implications for aviation markets in general.

Selected archival publications on ‘Aircraft Design’ can be found in the LAE’s Archival Publications Section.