These days, aircraft consist largely of a cylindrical fuselage with wings attached. The design has been in use for decades. A new study—called AHEAD—shows that aircraft design can be different. Could this be the future of aviation?
AHEAD stands for Advanced Hybrid Engine Aircraft Development. AHEAD is a long-term aircraft design study led by the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands along with a variety of academic and manufacturing partners throughout the world. KLM Engineering & Maintenance participated in this study and helped design the AHEAD Aircraft that can carry 300 passengers over a range of 14,000 kilometres.
Why did we participate in this study?
In a high level design study like this, designers—in their enthusiasm to develop a high-tech aircraft—cannot always see every practical implication of their design. The drawing board is very different to real-life practice and operation.
That is why KLM Engineering & Maintenance (as one of the possible future users of these aircraft) was invited to participate in the various design teams and to add a critical eye to the practical usage and operation.
I enjoyed participating in these sessions. We had intense discussions with smart and inspiring people with different cultural backgrounds, but all passionate about aviation and technology.
Aircraft fuselage and wings in assembly
Why this design?
The AHEAD aircraft design has an integrated wing and body, called a blended wing body design.
Minimizing resistance (or drag) is one of the main challenges in aircraft design. Overcoming drag requires power, and this results in greater fuel consumption. A blended wing body is one of the very promising designs to minimize the drag and, is so doing, making aircraft much more fuel-efficient.
The propulsion systems—that is, the engines—according to engineers.
Jet Engine Development
The jet engines currently in use are called turbofan engines. This is how they work. Large volumes of air flow through and around the engine. Some of that air is used to burn kerosene fuel in a combustor. The heated air then drives the turbines that in turn drive the compressors and that make up the entire propulsion system.
AHEAD involves a totally new engine design—a hybrid engine using two different combustion systems. The first combustor burns either cryogenic hydrogen or liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), the second combustor burns either kerosene or biofuel. By using two different combustor and fuel systems the engine’s total efficiency increases and emissions are reduced.
Counter Rotating Fan
Another feature of the engine of the future is the use of a counter-rotating fan. The large fan that produces most of the engine thrust is made up of two rows of blades that rotate in opposite directions. The advantage of this design is improve engine efficiency even further.
See You in 2050
The AHEAD design is a long-term study, with many aspects yet to be researched. The timeframe for introduction of an aircraft of this type is expected to appear sometime around 2050. KLM is committed to staying involved in short- and long-term innovations in aviation. I will keep you posted about the efforts and developments!
It’s quite possible you’ve heard or read this before. We’ve posted this blog in August 2015. So this actually is a repost. But let’s be honest: you can’t get tired of reading about our innovative developments, right?