KLM and TU Delft eye sustainable aviation future with V-shaped flyer
When Gibson introduced the Flying V electric guitar in 1958, it divided opinion. A bold new aviation concept out of TU Delft is sure to do the same. Wearing the same moniker as Gibson's iconic instrument, the design is aimed at improving aircraft efficiency and sustainability.
The original idea for the Flying-V came from thesis work undertaken by TU Berlin student Justus Benad while at Airbus Hamburg, who looked at ways to improve the efficiency of a commercial passenger aircraft. When compared to an A350-900 reference aircraft, he estimated his concept could potentially offer 10 percent higher lift-to-drag, have 2 percent lower mass, be quieter and benefit from a simple configuration.
Work on the concept has continued to be refined and reworked. The V-shaped design integrates the cabin, cargo hold and fuel tanks into each wing structure, with a wingspan that matches an Airbus A350 but from an aircraft that's a bit shorter overall. This means that the Flying-V could make use of existing airport infrastructure, it would carry about the same number of passengers as an A350 and haul the same amount of cargo.
"The Flying-V is smaller than the A350 and has less inflow surface area compared to the available amount of volume," said TU Delft's Dr. Roelof Vos. "The result is less resistance. That means the Flying-V needs less fuel for the same distance."
In fact, TU Delft reckons that the aerodynamic shape and reduced weight could see it use 20 percent less fuel than an Airbus A350-900.
The Flying-V concept is 55 m (180 ft) long and 17 m (55 ft) high, with a wingspan of 65 m (213 ft). It can accommodate 314 passengers and 160 cubic meters of cargo. It will be propelled by fuel-efficient turbofan engines and run on kerosene, but future implementations could see more environment-friendly propulsion systems being employed when such technology is developed.
But will it fly? We'll have to wait and see, but Benad did fly a radio-controlled model when the project was in early development and KLM recently entered into a cooperative agreement with TU Delft at the IATA Annual General Meeting in Seoul for further research into the concept.
Researchers are currently working on a flying scale prototype that will be used to test the design's stability and reliability when flown at low speeds. KLM will officially present that model and a full-size section of the interior of the Flying-V at the KLM Experience Days at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol in October as part of the airline's 100th anniversary.