In late 2010, NASA awarded contracts to three teams — Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, The Boeing Company — to study advanced concept designs for aircraft that could take to the skies in the year 2025.
Each design looks very different, but all final designs have to meet NASA's goals for less noise, cleaner exhaust and lower fuel consumption. Each aircraft has to be able to do all of those things at the same time, which requires a complex dance of tradeoffs between all of the new advanced technologies that will be on these vehicles.
Artist's concept of an aircraft that could enter service in 2025 from the team led by The Boeing Company.
The proposed aircraft will also have to operate safely in a more modernized air traffic management system.
And each design has to fly up to 85 percent of the speed of sound; cover a range of approximately 7,000 miles; and carry between 50,000 and 100,000 pounds of payload, either passengers or cargo.
This mockup represents the Northrop Grumman concept.
For the rest of this year, each team will be exploring, testing, simulating, keeping and discarding innovations and technologies to make their design a winner.
Lockheed Martin's entry is visually familiar.
This future aircraft design concept for supersonic flight over land comes from the team led by the Lockheed Martin Corporation. The team used simulation tools to show it was possible to achieve over-land flight by dramatically lowering the level of sonic booms through the use of an "inverted-V" engine-under wing configuration. Other revolutionary technologies help achieve range, payload and environmental goals.
The Hybrid Wing Body H-Series future aircraft design concept comes from the research team led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This design is suitable for intercontinental flights and larger passenger loads similar to a Boeing 777. It features embedded engines using variable area nozzles with thrust vectoring, noise shielding thanks to the fuselage and other technologies, and advanced onboard vehicle health monitoring systems. This aircraft is designed to fly at Mach 0.83 carrying 354 passengers 7,600 nautical miles.
The Subsonic Ultra Green Aircraft Research, or SUGAR, Volt future aircraft design comes from the research team led by The Boeing Company. The Volt is a twin-engine concept with a hybrid propulsion system that combines gas turbine and battery technology, a tube-shaped body and a truss-braced wing mounted to the top of the aircraft. This aircraft is designed to fly at Mach 0.79 carrying 154 passengers 3,500 nautical miles.
This future aircraft design concept comes from a research team led by GE Aviation. Much lighter and more aerodynamic than current aircraft with the same capacity, the 20-passenger aircraft would reduce fuel consumption and noise and enable business jet-like travel between more than 1,300 airports. It features ultra-quiet turboprop engines, virtual reality windows and is designed to fly at Mach 0.55 for 800 nautical miles.
Deceptively conventional-looking, the The Silent Efficient Low Emissions Commercial Transport, or SELECT, future aircraft design features lightweight ceramic composite materials, nanotech, and shape memory alloys. In addition to being energy efficient and environmentally friendly, the SELECT improves the capacity of the future air transportation system because it can be used at smaller airports and make them more effective. It is designed to fly at Mach 0.75 carrying 120 passengers 1,600 nautical miles.
The "double bubble" D8 Series concept is based on a modified tube and wing with a very wide fuselage to provide extra lift. Its low sweep wing reduces drag and weight; the embedded engines sit aft of the wings. The D8 series aircraft would be used for domestic flights and is designed to fly at Mach 0.74 carrying 180 passengers 3,000 nautical miles in a coach cabin roomier than that of a Boeing 737-800.
The "Icon-II" future aircraft design concept for supersonic flight over land comes from the team led by The Boeing Company. A design that achieves fuel burn reduction and airport noise goals, it also achieves large reductions in sonic boom noise levels that will meet the target level required to make supersonic flight over land possible.
NASA is looking into advanced aircraft that could enter service within the next 25 years -- designs that range from the familiar to the very far out.