Lighter Wings

In the days of cheap air line travel with constant rise in Air Turbine fuel rates owing to crude rates shooting northwards already crossing $115 per barrel there is a drastic need for increasing the efficiency of Jet engines. The lower consumption of fuel can be achieved to some extent but the innovative manufacturers may also have to concentrate on weight reduction and stronger and lighter materials like carbon fiber. Lighter the aircraft lesser is the drag on it and give better performance. Manufacturers of Aircraft are working in this direction as there are no chances of developing alternate fuels to Air Turbine fuel in the near future. In the ensuing paragraphs some suggestions are made as to how to cope up with the situation and where the manufacturers can concentrate to improve up on the efficiency. Thinking of non-conventional fuels at this juncture is far from achieving a realistic and practical design.

Jet engines are now so reliable that a pilot can go an entire career without seeing one fail. Autopilots are so good that some airlines have set up their cockpits to emit a loud beep every few minutes to make sure the crew is still awake. And navigation is so accurate that landings can be timed to the second.

So what’s left to worry about in aviation?
In a word, fuel.
Jet fuel is now the largest expense for most airlines, and for American carriers each penny increase in price per gallon costs nearly $200 million a year. The industry is also becoming increasingly nervous about what happens when that fuel is burned. Aviation is responsible for about 2% of global emissions of green house gases, and that share will rise as air travel continues to grow.

So the industry is scrambling to build greener airplanes – to save weight and improve engine efficiency, with an eye toward reducing operating costs and emissions.

In the short term, a revolution in jet engines is about to occur, with radically different designs that use gears to cut fuel consumption, noise and pollutants. And those new engines will power planes built more and more with carbon composite materials, which are lighter ad may also be safer than the aluminum they replace.

In longer term, the fuel itself may change; scientists are looking for an aviation version of ethanol, something that can be made from plants rather than petroleum.

The newest aircraft will also swap out many of the conventional hydraulic systems that control flaps, slats and other parts and replace them with electric motors saving weight. In addition, new aircraft will use motors to pressures with cabin for the same reason.

The geared jet engine will enter commercial airline service around 2013, if all goes well.

New regional jets and other new planes will use more composites. Boeing’s new 787, expected to enter service next year, will be 50% composites, by weight, compared with just 12% in its last new airplanes, the 777, which was certified in 1995.

Carbon fiber has a weight advantage of about 20% over aluminium although Boeing gave back a little bit of the gain by putting in bigger windows. The stronger composite frame of the lane makes the change possible.

The 787 has another innovation that is becoming common in new designs: electric motors instead of hydraulic pumps. At Honeywell, a major manufacturer of aircraft parts, Robert Smith, vice president of advanced technology, described systems that will run on electricity as opposed to hydraulic fluid, as is the case today. Electricity is safer, lighter and greener, Smith said. Hydraulic fluid is flammable and the lines that carry it are big and heavy among other disadvantage.