Design Innovation in the Commercial Airline Industry
Howard M. Fuller
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Author Note: This paper was prepared for Aerodynamics ASCI 309 taught by Bruce Slack, PhD
DESIGN INNOVATION: HIGH SPEED –LOW DRAG
The past oil crises have caused dramatic improvements in fuel efficiency in all industrial sectors. The aviation sector—aircraft manufacturers and airlines—has also made significant efforts to improve the fuel efficiency through more advanced jet engines, high-lift wing designs, and lighter airframe materials. However, the innovations in energy-saving aircraft technologies do not coincide with the oil crisis periods. The largest improvement in aircraft fuel efficiency took place in the 1960s while the high oil prices in the 1970s and later did not induce manufacturers or airlines to achieve a faster rate of innovation. Based on the industry and passenger behaviors studied and prospects for alternative fuel options, this paper offers insights for the aviation sector to shift toward more sustainable technological options in the medium term. Second-generation biofuels could be the feasible option with a meaningful reduction in aviation’s lifecycle environmental impact if it can achieve sufficient economies of scale. It appears all news is bad news when it comes to the current state of aviation. That is unfortunate because it overshadows just how wonderful it is that we can fly. Bearing in mind that just over 100 years ago, few could imagine it and today we take aviation for granted.
Keywords: drag, winglets, fuel consumption, lift
DESIGN INNOVATION: HIGH SPEED-LOW DRAG
Design Innovations in the Commercial Airline Industry
The competition within the commercial airlines industry is extremely hot and turbulent. The two largest world-wide commercial aircraft companies are Boeing and Airbus. In this paper the author intends to show a comparison of the key design innovations developed, tested and evaluated, and implemented by these mega giants in the aircraft manufacturing industry. There are two specific products which will be compared. The first is the design innovation and use of winglets. The second will be a comparison of the aircraft engines being used by both companies. Their respective uses will demonstrate the potential advantages as well as their disadvantages in terms of cost, schedule to deliver, and performance.
In the 1970s, it was an article on birds that led Richard T. Whitcomb to develop his third significant innovation of winglets by refining an idea that had been around for decades. (NASA TN D8260 July 1976) Other engineers had suspected that end plates added to the wing tips could reduce drag, but the Langley engineer proved a simple vertical plate wasn't enough. "It is a little wing. That's why I called them winglets," said Whitcomb. "It's designed with all the care that a wing was designed." (Whitcomb, 1976). His nonplanar wingtips, termed winglets soon appeared on various aircraft, including Rutan.s VariEze in 1975 and the original Learjet 26/29 in 1977.
The winglet of the Boeing 747-400 has a much lower dihedral angle than the Whitcomb winglet, and since that time, numerous vertical, canted, and horizontal wingtip extensions have been installed on commercial and military service aircraft. It has been validated and verified that winglets reduce yet another type of drag and further improve aerodynamic efficiency. (Whitcomb, 1976). Many airliners and private jets utilize wingtips that are angled up for better fuel performance.
DESIGN INNOVATION: HIGH SPEED-LOW DRAG
Winglets are often perceived to be visible signs of improvement. They are considered a high technology innovation which appeals to the commercial airline industry. Aerodynamically, the real motivation behind using wingtip devices is to reduce induced drag. During the early to mid-1970s, flight tests...