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Beyond the 787 Dreamliner 21 January 2013
The grounding of the 787 Dreamliner is a blow to Boeing but not a surprise. A new model, using novel manufacturing techniques and new technologies such as electric systems to replace hydraulics, will always have teething problems. I am sure Boeing will get to the bottom of the cause and the 787 Dreamliner will return to the skies. This shows that to design and build an aircraft that departs from the current tested parameters is risky. It is going to get riskier still for the aviation industry as people demand that emissions from aviation are reduced.
This picture, purporting to be the Boeing 797, shows a blended wing aircraft which many people think will be the future of fast efficient air travel. It is expected that such aircraft can be a massive 50% more fuel-efficient than the conventional tube with wings design. They can be stiffer, lighter and have better aerodynamics. An aircraft like the Boeing 797 would make the current airline fleets obsolete in a world of rising fuel costs. The engineering of such a design is understood so there are no technical barriers but with such a radical design there may be teething problems. There may also be passenger acceptance issues as people get used to not having a window seat but nothing that cannot be overcome.
This image is from an article in the magazine Popular Science a decade ago and widely circulated on the internet as a hoax, but like all good hoaxes has more than a grain of truth. Blended wing aircraft can and have been built and would make conventional aircraft obsolete, including the 787 Dreamliner. It would be commercial suicide for Boeing to trumpet this next stage in the evolution of aircraft until it has built and sold the 1,000 planes in its order book. Boeing will not be building blended wind aircraft any time soon ‒ unless we demand they should. If we decided to tax aviation fuel in line with ground transportation, we could bring forward this next generation of aircraft.
I hope that the technicians at Boeing find and solve the problems with the Dreamliner but I hope the senior corporate management authorise the design of a blended wing passenger aircraft, not as large as the Boeing 797 concept but of similar size to the Dreamliner. Commercially, they will not want to take this path but that is what the world needs.
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