The possible future of flight from MIT

In what could set the stage for a fundamental shift in commercial aviation, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – led team has designed a green aircraft that is estimated to use 70 per cent less fuel than current planes while also reducing noise and emission of nitrogen oxides (NOx). The design was one of […]


In what could set the stage for a fundamental shift in commercial aviation, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – led team has designed a green aircraft that is estimated to use 70 per cent less fuel than current planes while also reducing noise and emission of nitrogen oxides (NOx).

The design was one of two that the team, led by faculty from the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, presented to NASA last month as part of a US$2.1 million research contract to develop environmental and performance concepts that will help guide the agency’s aeronautics research over the next 25 years. Known as “N+3” to denote three generations beyond today’s commercial transport fleet, the research programme is aimed at identifying key technologies, such as advanced airframe configurations and propulsion systems, that will enable greener airplanes to take flight around 2035.

Four teams — led by MIT, Boeing, GE Aviation and Northrop Grumman, respectively — studied concepts for subsonic commercial planes, while teams led by Boeing and Lockheed- Martin studied concepts for supersonic commercial aircraft. Led by AeroAstro faculty and students, the MIT team members include Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation and Pratt & Whitney.

The team noted that while automobiles have undergone extensive design changes over the last half-century, “aircraft silhouettes have basically remained the same over the past 50 years, based on the traditional “tube-and-wing” structure of an aircraft’s wings and fuselage.