Re: End of airliner evolution?

From: (Terrell D. Drinkard)
Organization: The Boeing Company
Date:         11 Oct 96 19:44:52 
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In article <airliners.1996.1989@ohare.Chicago.COM>,
IMacduff <> wrote:
>I would like to hear others views on where advances in aeronautics will
>take us and how far away is the end.  I find it curious that the basic
>design of airliners hasn't changed that much ( nothing revolutionary
>anyway) since the 707.  How efficient can you make jet engines?  Do higher
>speeds (supersonic) come free or will they always require compromise (ie
>fuel efficiency, safety, approach speeds)?  Are there any revolutionary
>aerodynamic designs still untried in the wind tunnels or computer

Talk about your wide-ranging questions.  :-)

I rather doubt that there will ever be an end to aeronautical improvements.
Look at it this way, people have been farming for some 12,000 years or so
and there doesn't seem to be any end in sight for agricultural
improvements.  Same for aeronautics or just about any other scientific or
engineering inquiry.

As for where it will lead us, who knows?  Your assertion that the basic
design of airlines has not changed since the 707 is not accurate.  A better
way of stating what I think you meant is that the commercial heavy jet
transports all have very similar exterior configurations.  There are a lot
of folks here who can explain why that is so, but I'm going to guess that
your underlying point is that technology drives configuration, but since
configurations haven't changed much, then the technology hasn't changed
much.  Which may lead you to wonder where the hell did all that technical
R&D money go to anyway?  :-)

Suffice to say that airliner design has change significantly since the days
fo the venerable 707.  Most of changes are in ways that the average
passenger doesn't see.  Metalurgy, glass cockpits, improved engines, better
fatigue life, more reliable systems, lower drag airfoils, more powerful
flap systems, the list is just endless, really.

Jet engines can be made as efficient as the Carnot cycle efficiency for the
operating temperatures, and no more.  Want a higher efficiency, burn a
hotter fuel.

Supersonic speeds do not come free.  It takes more energy to fly faster, so
fuel economy is likely to continue to be an issue (at least when compared
to the equivalent subsonic aircraft) for a long time into the future.
Safety does not have to be, and should not be, compromised for supersonic
flight.  Approach speeds are on the rise for subsonic aircraft already, in
order to achieve some performance targets, so I rather think that the
approach speeds of supersonic aircraft will be acceptable as soon as the
other problems can be solved.

Revolutionary aerodynamics is a career field, and I'm certainly not
qualified to give you a quick overview of the state-of-the-virtual-art.
Join the AIAA and subscribe to the Journal of Aircraft, which can also be
found at most technical universities, and gorge yourself on interesting
aerodynamics articles.  :-)

>I believe that fifty years from now we will be flying airliners very
>similar to todays, with only minor enhancements.  They will still be
>almost entirely subsonic and have very similar overall performance.  I am
>criticized for this by day-dreamers who believe Mr. Ingenuity always has
>another trick up his sleeve, and hypersonic travel will be commonplace in
>the future.  However, airliners of today are a mature technology, with
>most major advances to take place on the flightdeck and not in the actual
>airframe.  Even technology on the flightdeck will mature and stabalize
>soon.  After all, once you can pinpoint your position in real time
>anywhere in the world to within a few feet and carry a topographic map of
>the entire world on CD ROM (not far away), where do you go from there?

I disagree.  Look back 50 years.  Not a single commercial jet transport in
the air (yes, the Comet is almost there). Today, you just can't compete in
most markets with a propeller driven aircraft; the jets eat you up.
Further, the pace of technological change is increasing, so I'd expect to
be traveling on a totally new kind of aircraft in fifty years.

I'm afraid I've no opinion on the relative commonplaceness of hypersonic
travel half a century from today.  :-)

One last word, never underestimate the inventiveness of the avionics
industry.  Those guys are amazing, and I think we've only just seen the tip
of the iceberg of what they are capable of giving us.  Currently, we are
seeing the passenger cabin getting wired and this is only the beginning.
Expect your own internet access, video-on-demand, and god knows what else
within the next ten to twenty years.  The pace of change may seem
relatively slow, but everyone from the airframers to the regulatory
agencies to the avionics manufacturers are trying to be careful.

Anyone want to hear my views on the upcoming SuperBowl?  :-)

"Anyone who thinks they can hold the company responsible for what I say has
more lawyers than sense."