Is This The Future Of Aviation?

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.

Aircraft Engines

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!

Sounds familiar?

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?

Posted by:   Rob Duivis  | 
Join the conversation Show comments

André Vercauteren

beautiful design!

Rob Duivis

Yes, indeed a very “good looking” aircraft, the design is dictated by aerodynamic requirements and an efficient economic operation.

Tom Timans

Nice design for the future! Now how about the Boeing 747-8 as successor for the 747-400 and then in 2050 the AHEAD-design??

Rob Duivis

The gap between the Boeing 747-8 and this AHEAD design is large. It is more likely that new generation aircraft like the B787 and A350 will be succeeded by a newer design within a few decades, prior to the introduction of an AHEAD style aircraft.
This depends for a great deal on the developments in aircraft powerplants and fuels.


I applaud designs such as these since even the latest designs, while magnificent pieces of engineering, are simply too cumbersome to keep up.

Do you believe that aviation innovations, powerplant in particular, can move fast enough to tackle a severe lack of fossil fuel scenario (peak oil) that we might see during the half of this century? Was the AHEAD project inspired because of that?

Rob Duivis

Dear Arman,
The intent of this study was not yet to develop an 100% alternative for fossil fueled engines, the AHEAD engine design is intended to operate on two types of fuel; a kerosene/biofuelmixture and hydrogene fuel. But the AHEAD design was certainly inspired by the concern of availability as well as environmental aspects.
Although we all realise there will come an end to the availability of fossil fuels and there is also a drive to use alternate fuels from an environmental perspective, it is not yet clear when the availability of fossil fuels will come to an end. But the major engine manufacturers are studying several alternatives to power aircrafts by means other then using fossil fueled engines.



taking into account that you need a inbetween step and that both the current new and inbetween step need at least an economic lief of 20 years i understand 2050. But i Will be 90 ! Can you do faster?


Can you do faster?i Will be 90

Rob Duivis

We all would like to go faster with technology developments, but these developments are more evolutionary in stead of revolutionary, we need a safe, reliable, durable and economical viable design. And that takes a long time to develop.


If we could go to the speed and height of the Concorde again but economically viable… that would be amazing.

Phillip Gain

Visually at least – this seems to me like reinventing the wheel. Or more accurately, re-inventing the Concorde, minus the supersonic capability.

It would be nice if the new generation of passenger jets were supersonic, super-aerodynamic, super-fuel-efficient, and could carry more passengers. I know that’s a tall order…but if you’re going to aim for improvement (especially over such a ridiculously long time frame), I think a bit more ambition is in order.

Rob Duivis

Phillip and Deniz,
There is indeed still a desire within commercial aviation to go supersonic as well and there is even a lot of research ongoing.
One of my future blogs will discuss ins and outs about supersonic flights.


Rob Duivis

Dear Philip,
I understand your remarks, however you need to realize that developments in aviation and in particulary aircraft and engine design go by nature rather slow, specially compared to example the automotive industry.
The reasons for this are that technical developments in aviation are highly dictated by extremely strict safety requirements, which require extensive development, testing and certification efforts.
In addition to this, aircrafts and aircraft engines have a rather long usage/lifespan of several decades which has to do with the huge investments both in design as well as acquisition of new equipment. Also the number of produced aircraft and aircraft engines are relative low compared to other high tech products, which drives up the time to return on investments.
There is a balance between economics and what is technically feasible.


JeongHwan Seong

Hi chief over there
I wanna apply there as crew
that’s why I was tour conductor in the past,
I’d be better If I ‘ve been given the opportunity by Your policy.
truly yours
JeongHwan Seong

Rob Duivis

Dear Seong,
Thanks for your interest!





How does this plan yaw? Like B2?



Hello Dears
i have several questions please:
1- if i can see some mistakes in design of this, where i can send my opinion?
2 how can i find the list of producers of air plains?

Joel Godston

I mentor youngsters on many aviation related topics…saw your article, and wanted to download the schematic of the engine. It would not let me do that. PLEASE help me get that. FYI below is some background on me and what I am now doing. I look forward to your positive response. Joel/MrG
Choices…. “When Did You Know”
Joel Godston
I was born on July 4, 1934, living on Staten Island, when at the age of 9; I knew I wanted to be
involved in Aviation. My parents helped me purchase a Thor model airplane motor…. really wasn’t much
good…. would not run very well even on the motor stand I constructed…. built u-control model ‘high speed’
model airplanes…. went to RPI to become an Aeronautical Engineer…. was in Air Force
ROTC…..Graduated….was in the Air Force pilot training class of 57-H…. First flight in a ‘souped up’ Piper Cub
was on February 2, 1956…. Became a pilot after almost being ‘washed out’… flew B-47’s with an Aircraft
Commander who had flown B-17’s in WWII…. flew F-86H’s and F-84’s in the Mass. Air National
Guard…worked at Pratt & Whitney, a division of United Technologies, Inc. for about 40 years….. Now retired
mentoring and ‘teaching’ aviation related subjects with elementary, junior, and senior high school youngsters;
and adults in Dartmouth’s ILEAD program…. Received the EAA Leadership Award in 2006, and in 2010 The
Wright Brothers “Master Pilot” Award from FAA “In recognition of your contributions to building and maintaining
the safest aviation system in the world, through practicing and promoting safe flight operations for 50
consecutive years”….. Have organized Airport Awareness Day and Young Eagle Rally at Lebanon Airport for
four years and Dean Memorial Airport for fourteen years…continued flying in our 1976 Cessna 182 to travel,
and fly youngsters to become a Young Eagle, an EAA program chaired by Sully & Jeff, pilots of the nowfamous
US Airways Flight 1549 ditching in the Hudson River…. My last flight in our 1976 Cessna 182
(N1408M) was on October 24, 2011…N1408M was sold on February 8, 2012, a VERY sad day; but I
have had 55 years, 1,996 hours flying time with 1,762 take-offs and landings… much fun, challenges,
excitement, and pilot-in-command time…Now, in 2014, a ‘Ground Pounder’, a member of EAA
Chapter 26 Seattle, Washington, co-chairing the monthly newsletter, “Wind in the Wires”, and doing
mentoring/seminars on many, many Aviation related topics with youngsters and the ‘elderly’.
Being in Aviation, EAA Young Eagles program (flown just under 400 youngsters), and
mentoring youngsters has been, and is, a VERY rewarding experience.

Rob Duivis

Dear mr. Godston,
Interesting to read about your impressive career in aviation, lots of similarities, two more months and i celebrate my 40th year with KLM. Sharing my knowledge with students has become one of my activities apart from my primary job. I am always amazed by the motivation and dedication of young students in the field of Aviation, they are very interested in the technology behind aircrafts and propulsion.

The design of the engines of the AHEAD airplane is based on a current high bypass powerplant of one of the large engine OEM’s with major changes to the fansection, addition of a dual combustor system to burn the two different types of fuel and an hydrogen bleed cooling system to cool the bleed air used to cool the turbine section of the engine. Unfortunately i am not allowed to share any drawings on the internet, but if you visit the website of AHEAD you can find several details of the engine design.


Rob Duivis

Gert Velthuizen

Great design, good looking airplane and like Antoine I am 90+ years than so please hurry…
By tge way, did you study sharks to get to this design?

Have fun.

Rob Duivis

Although there is a great deal of similarity with sharks, during this study we did not study the behaviour and appearance of sharks.



hi. Amazing design and engineering innovation and credit to all involved. Question perhaps for the future but will airports be involved in the development to factor in the practical side of loading and unloading passengers and gate access to such a radically different body design to current aircraft used globally?

Rob Duivis

Dear reader,
Very good question, the answer is yes; during the design phase of an aircraft when the dimensions are defined, systems interacting with the airport logistics etc. the airport community gets involved as well.
With this high level study we did not reach the phase yet of defining these aspects in final detai. But we reviewed and discussed aspects like fuel handling and logistics around the aircraft.




Fantastic article on future of aviation. I am impressed by your views on future of aviation. I think it also depends on how we are focusing in good Aviation college courses to get the best person to handle the best job. I think it can be done by giving importance on quality Aviation courses which can give practical results with the background of theory. Shashibedu also provides Aviation college courses. It is top ranked college in aviation courses. For more details visit :


#jessey knows.hi jessey, what is the best paint to be used on planes and how do they mix them well.thanks

jacobus van Rijn

what about a scram jet it had a lot of press 2 years ago


I hope it has seats that can accommodate anyone and allow ALL people to travel in comfort for the same price. Show me that design and I might be interested.

Masood Burki

Next 20 years will see phenomenal improvements in Electric storage batteries for example present day best electric car has maximum range of 280 miles but it is going to be possible to increase the battery storage by ten fold that is the time I foresee aircraft powered by 100% electric power


Always get Operations involved during design stages. Smart move by Delft!

Bob Kammeijer

I’m so excited about the future of air travel ( airplane design and propulsion). This article is a testament to our future. So proud that KLM engineering and maintenance is participating.


Looks great safe an modern I assume it’s fast because the shape is areo dynamics

Raymond de Jong

Looks good! But don’t you need at least a small rudder for cross wind take off and landing?

Steven lacroes

It’s like working allready
Can’t wait to see this it’s a dream come true.


Impressive design. How long will it take the airfield engineers to widen the runways and make adjustments to the terminals for the width of this aircraft? Lift efficiency would also reduce fuel economy, much like the winglets seen on modern aircraft. Have you considered a box-wing design? I also like the concept of the contra-rotating fan. Virtually zero torque allowing placement anywhere on the frame.



Taylor Green

I loved to participate in the study of new Aviation’s designs as in this article; the main first striking point is to lessening resistance/drag in aircraft design. Dragging consumes prominent fuel and the second point is turbofan engines.

John Godguidance

I mrr John Godguidance Will like to apply to KLM,for th3 development of th3 emergency wings for an aircraft. Is a pattern where by I used the air oñ whiçh the aircraft is flying 9ñ to generates a field of emergency wings that can b9ost the efficiency of the aircraft thereby achieve fuel efficiency añd àlso stands to help engine failure ,

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