NASA awards $16.5 million for advancement of greener, quieter aircraft

WASHINGTON, 6 April 2011. NASA officials have awarded four industry and academic teams $16.5 million in contract awards to research greener and quieter designs for aircraft intended to enter service between 2030 and 2035. NASA refers to this time period as N+3, representing technology three generations more advanced than what is in service today. Under the new contracts, the teams will develop concepts and models able to be tested in computer simulations, laboratories, and wind tunnels.

WASHINGTON, 6 April 2011. NASA officials have awarded four industry and academic teams $16.5 million in contract awards to research greener and quieter designs for aircraft intended to enter service between 2030 and 2035. NASA refers to this time period as N+3, representing technology three generations more advanced than what is in service today. Under the new contracts, the teams will develop concepts and models able to be tested in computer simulations, laboratories, and wind tunnels.

NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate in Washington funds the work. The agency's Fundamental Aeronautics Program focuses on developing technology that enables aircraft to meet national goals for: reduced fuel consumption, emissions, and noise.

The program's Subsonic Fixed Wing Project oversees the work at the agency's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and Langley Research Center, Va.

The team leaders, projects, contract amounts, and periods of performance are:

• Boeing Research & Technology, Huntington Beach, Calif., Subsonic Ultra Green Aircraft Research, or SUGAR, $8.8 million, three years

• Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, Mass., Aircraft and Technology Concepts for N+3 Subsonic Transport, $4.6 million, three years

• Cessna Aircraft Company-Cessna Citation, Wichita, Kan., Star-C2 Protective Skins-Materials & Requirements Development, $1.9 million, 27 months

• Northrop Grumman Systems Inc., El Segundo, Calif., High Lift Leading Edge Ground Test, $1.2 million, 14 months

The Boeing Research & Technology award continues work on the SUGAR Project, including truss-based wing aircraft designs and hybrid electric engine technology. Under the contract, the team will design, construct, and test wind tunnel mockups and airplane computer models. The team will also study lightweight materials and engine concepts for more futuristic planes for between 2040 and 2045.

The MIT team is continuing work on its "double bubble" airplane design concept of a dual fuselage, with two partial cylinders placed side by side in a structure that is wider than a traditional tube-and-wing airliner. The team will build a model for testing and explore the challenges of high-efficiency, small-core engine technology.

The Cessna Aircraft Company team will focus on airplane structure, particularly the outer covering. Engineers are trying to develop what is being called a "magic skin" able to protect planes against lightning, electromagnetic interference, extreme temperatures, and object impacts. The skin would heal itself if punctured or torn, as well as insulate the cabin from noise. NASA funding will help the company develop, integrate, and test the structural concept.

The Northrop Grumman team will test models of the leading edge of the wing. If engineers can design a smooth edge without the current standard slats, airplanes would be quieter and consume less fuel at cruise altitudes given the smoother flow of air over the wings.

More in RF/Analog