Today a team of researchers at MIT unveiled their latest feat of engineering — an airplane that uses 70% less fuel than conventional aircraft. The MIT team was one of six groups — and the only university led team — across the US chosen by NASA to help redesign current aircraft to increase fuel efficiency, lower emissions and allow planes to take off on shorter runways. The team accomplished all of NASA’s set goals with their innovative D-series plane, lovingly referred to as the “double bubble”.
NASA is calling this government-funded initiative the “N+3”, signifying that the planes are meant to revolutionize the aircraft industry in three generations. MIT, Boeing, GE Aviation and Northrop Grumman were given the task of rethinking the subsonic commercial aircraft market while teams from Boeing and Lockheed-Martin were entrusted with creating supersonic commercial aircraft — passenger planes traveling faster than the speed of sound! NASA’s goals were to reduce fuel consumption while taking into account that in 3 decades air traffic is set to double. Now that the designs have been revealed the teams are awaiting news in the next few months of which designs will receive funding to go on to the second phase of the program.
MIT designed their D-series as a 180 passenger aircraft meant to replace the domestic 737 market. Conventional airplanes utilize a single fuselage design, while the D-series uses two partial tubular shapes placed beside each other — which accounts for the bubble nickname. The plane utilizes a host of technological advances to decrease its fuel consumption. It has thinner longer wings and a smaller tail and engine placement at the rear of the plane instead of on the wings. All of these features account for part of the reduction in fuel usage. The MIT team also unveiled their H-series — a “hybrid wing body” plane that seats 350 passengers and could replace the 777 overseas market. NASA expects designs from this program to take flight in 2035.