Transonic Airliners?

Date:         11 Feb 98 04:23:50 
From:         westin*nospam@graphics.cornell.edu (Stephen H. Westin)
Organization: Program of Computer Graphics -- Cornell University
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My impression is that Richard Whitcomb, inventor of the supercritical
airfoil, envisioned its use on transonic (transsonic?) airliners
cruising at, say, Mach 0.95. This would reduce trip times
significantly while avoiding sonic booms. Indeed, the official
NASA/Dryden history at
   <http://www.dfrc.nasa.gov/History/Publications/SP-4303/>
states, "Whitcomb envisioned the ideal transonic transport as having
both a supercritical wing and transonic area ruling-and, at a later
date, winglets..."

So why didn't it happen? I can think of a few reasons:

1. Area ruling would make it much harder to stretch or cut
   fuselage length for derivatives. The current paradigm of
   a tube with front and back caps seems ideal for this; the
   last airliner I can recall that violated this was the
   Constellation.

2. A transonic aircraft would use more fuel than a subsonic
   one, and folks are still loath to increase fuel consumption.

3. Traffic control could be a problem with airliners ranging
   from 0.8 Mach to 0.95 Mach sharing the same airways.

4. General conservatism: it's less risky to build a new plane
   that does the same thing as existing ones, just bigger or
   cheaper.

--
-Stephen H. Westin
Any information or opinions in this message are mine: they do not
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