Years ago there’d be an occasional article about the future of air travel which predicted the arrival of space age planes which would thrust us up into the atmosphere and then quickly back down and would be capable of taking us from anywhere to anywhere in less than a couple of hours. This concept sparked all sorts of cool ideas, like being in an airport in Japan about to hop on a flight home and calling a buddy to make dinner plans for yesterday.
But in a sign of the times, engineers at MIT who have been working on crafting designs for future planes believe that the future is actually in planes that are slower. The thinking is that the amount of fuel that it takes to move a massive tube of aluminum (or some other composite) through the sky could be dramatically reduced if we would just be willing to slow things down a little — and make a few other adjustments. To that end, the MIT group has proposed some big changes to the traditional aircraft shape, changes which they say would reduce fuel burn by a startling 70%, with just a 10% reduction in air speed.
The MIT team has come up with two different design concepts. One design, called the “double bubble”, replaces the single fuselage cylinder with two partial cylinders placed side-by-side to slow the flow of air heading toward the engines. The other design, called the “H hybrid wing body”, is a larger craft capable of carrying 350 passengers.
So would you be OK with a little extra travel time to save all that fuel? If not, you probably don’t need to start worrying just yet. MIT estimates it will take another 25 years to get planes like this ready for commercial use.