NASA's green aviation project moves towards real world testing of selected technologies
The low weight, stitched composite structure to be fabricated by Boeing and tested by NASA as part of the ERA project (image: NASA)
Wed 9 Jan 2013 – NASA has unveiled details of the next step in its on-going research into greener technologies for aviation by revealing eight concepts that will be developed into large-scale demonstrations in Phase II of its Environmentally Responsible Aviation (ERA) project. The concepts selected were those that displayed the greatest potential to reduce negative environmental impacts from aviation in the next 30 years. Together they will address the project’s five research areas: aircraft drag reduction through innovative flow control concepts, weight reduction from advanced composite materials, fuel and noise reduction from advanced engines, emissions reductions from improved engine combustors, and fuel consumption and community noise reduction through innovative airframe and engine integration designs.
The eight demonstrations, expected to begin this year and run to 2015, encompass a range of technological improvements. Some cover advances in airframe design, such as the ability to manipulate the air flow over an aircraft’s tail, a damage resistant stitched structural composite that offers a 25% reduction in weight over current composites, and a non-rigid wing flap that could help to reduce aircraft noise on take-off and landing. Others are focused on propulsion, including continued development of ultra-high bypass, geared turbofan technology and a combustor with the potential to reduce NOx emissions.
By conducting these demonstrations, NASA hopes to move closer to the integration of the different strands of research. “With these demonstrations we will take what we’ve learned and move from the laboratory to more flight and ground technology tests,” said Fay Collier, ERA Project Manager. “We have made a lot of progress in our research toward very quiet aircraft with low carbon footprints. But the real challenge is to integrate ideas and pieces together to make an even larger improvement. Our next steps will help us work towards that goal.”
NASA expects industry partnerships to play a key role in carrying out the demonstrations, with some partners contributing funding to the project. For example, Boeing is constructing the 30ft (9.14m) wide, 14ft tall and 7ft deep stitched composite structure that will be used for testing at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia, where the ERA project is based.
“ERA’s research portfolio provides a healthy balance of industry and government partnerships working collaboratively to mature key technologies addressing ERA’s aggressive fuel burn, noise and emission reductions goals for tomorrow’s transport aircraft,” said Ed Waggoner, Director of the Integrated Systems Research Program at NASA, which oversees the ERA project.
The project began in 2009 with the goal of exploring and documenting the feasibility, benefits and technical risk of aircraft concepts, as well as enabling technologies that will reduce the impact of aviation on the environment. In Phase I, the project assessed a number of areas of environmentally friendly aviation research and also awarded contracts to selected aerospace companies for studies designed to identify advanced concepts that contribute towards its goal (see GreenAir articles from November 2010 and December 2010).