Institution of Mechanical Engineers urges UK aerospace to consider ambitious futuristic tecnologies
Date added: October 26, 2011
The IMechE has produced a report saying UK aerospace should be considering seemingly improbable options, like pilot-free planes, solar powered flight, planes flying at x5 the speed of sound, and a system by which individual units can be released and float down to the designated area where the passenger needs to go … and flying pigs …. The UK is currently the second biggest aerospace manufacturer in the world but is being challenged by emerging economies.
Researchers say formation flying could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25%
Investment in new aeroplane technologies is the key to the UK maintaining its status as an aerospace leader, according to a report.
The Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) said the country’s research and development spending has “flat-lined” since the 2008 financial crisis.
It said that made the UK’s position vulnerable to China, India and Brazil.
It urged the creation of a research centre to test ideas such as pilot-free planes and solar-powered flight.
“The UK aerospace sector already employs over 100,000 people around the country and is worth over £29bn a year to our economy, but we need to take action now to ensure this sector can continue to thrive and grow,” said Stephen Tetlow, chief executive of IMechE.
He said the UK was currently the second biggest aerospace manufacturer in the world.
However, it is being challenged by emerging economies, which are offering firms competitive R&D opportunities to boost their market share, as well as the promise of cheaper labour.
IMechE’s concept design for a double decker blended wing aircraft, capable of carrying 650 passengers
Industry and government should agree a strategic vision for investing in the UK’s aerospace sector
The UK should establish an advanced technologies aerospace research centre
Government should restore R&D support to pre-recession levels
If the suggestions were to be followed, the institution suggested there could be a range of UK-designed innovations in the skies over the next 50 years.
It said these could include formation flying, where a group of aircraft cruise in a V-shaped formation to reduce drag and boost fuel efficiency.
IMechE said there were opportunities to explore generating power mid-flight from renewable sources, such as solar and hydrogen fuel cells. However, it warned batteries would have to become lighter.
It noted that the UK was already involved in the production of unmanned aerial vehicles for the military. It said the research could be extended to develop pilot-less freighter aircraft, even if passengers resisted the idea.
Perhaps its most radical idea was the suggestion that a large “mothership” aircraft could carry smaller individual units, which would be released over designated areas, allowing passengers to be dropped off closer to their final destinations.
“These technologies may seem fanciful, but there is engineering research that shows that these technologies are feasible,” said Philippa Oldham, head of transport at IMechE.
“These aircraft would be expensive but it’s important to remember that these developments bring jobs and investment back into the UK.”
Passenger jets should fly in V-shaped formations like flocks of birds to save energy, experts have suggested.
Planes could travel at five times the speed of sound by the second half of this century, according to the report.
In an idea called ”a sort of Ark Royal for the skies”, a system could deliver individual plane passengers at or near their front door.
But action is needed now if the UK is to be at the forefront of future aerospace innovation, the report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IME) said.
Even in the next 20 years, there were potential sales of 25,000 new aircraft set to be worth more than £2,000 billion, said the report.
Looking towards 2075 and beyond, the report talked of:
:: ”Scramjet” planes able to fly at around five times the speed of sound (around 4,000mph):
:: Commercial aircraft flying in a V-shaped formation to save power by taking advantage of the airflow generated by the plane in front;
:: The ”aircraft carrier” system in which a large aircraft carries individual units that can be released over a destination and float down to the designated area where the passenger needs to go;
:: A ”flying wing” design, where the plane’s fuselage, wings and engine are blended together:
:: A ”flying fuel station” so future planes do not have to take off with full tanks.
IME chief executive Stephen Tetlow said: ”Now is the time for industry and Government to focus on sectors that can help lift the country’s economy.
”The UK aerospace sector already employs over 100,000 people around the country and is worth over £29 billion a year to our economy, but we need to take action now to ensure this sector can continue to thrive and grow.
”There is great potential for new UK aerospace technologies, but in order to compete with emerging nations, we need to set up a strategic vision for UK aerospace, establish a new dedicated aerospace research body and restore research and development funding to pre-recession levels.”
I think the business of flying in a vee formation has more to do with seeing what the other pilots are doing than with shedding drag.
IAre you sure they did not copy this out of a copy of “The Eagle”? Did the author have funny wavy eyebrows and an green arch-enemy who floated on a saucer?
Some of these might be technically feasible, but not within a commercially realistic or environmentally sensible budget. Does drag not go up as the 4th power of velocity? Surely that implies rather a lot of fuel would be needed?
I am sure the IMechE would love for all the money to be spent researching these things, but does it really expect them to happen? As Ryanair repairs its planes with gaffer tape – do you really want to get ejected at Mach5 from one of O’Leary’s machines?
I love the notion of an “individual passenger unit” ringing the bell and asking to be set down (escape capsule? parachute?) at the next stop. A bit of a slipstream at Mach 5 though ………