Three industry teams spent 2011 studying how to meet NASA's goals for making future aircraft burn 50 percent less fuel than aircraft that entered service in 1998, emit 75 percent fewer harmful emissions and shrink the size of geographic areas affected by objectionable airport noise by 83 percent.
Boeing's advanced vehicle concept centers around the familiar blended wing body design like the X-48. What makes this design different is the placement of its Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan engines on the top of the plane's back end, flanked by two vertical tails to shield people on the ground from engine noise. The design also uses other technologies to reduce noise and drag, and long-span wings to improve fuel efficiency.
Lockheed Martin's advanced vehicle concept proposes a box wing design, which is now feasible thanks to modern lightweight composite (nonmetallic) materials, landing gear technologies and other advancements.
Northrop Grumman's concept is based on the extremely aerodynamic "flying wing" design. The four Rolls Royce engines are embedded in the upper surface of the wing to achieve maximum noise shielding.
This computer-generated image shows a possible future "flying wing" aircraft, very efficiently and quietly in flight over populated areas. This kind of design, produced by Northrop Grumman, would most likely carry cargo at first and then also carry passengers.
Our ability to fly at supersonic speeds over land in civil aircraft depends on our ability to reduce the level of sonic booms. NASA has been exploring a variety of options for quieting the boom, starting with design concepts and moving through wind tunnel tests to flight tests of new technologies.
This computer rendering shows AMELIA (Advanced Model for Extreme Lift and Improved Aeroacoustics), a possible future hybrid wing body-type subsonic vehicle with short takeoff and landing capabilities.
This artist's concept shows a possible future subsonic aircraft using a boxed- or joined-wing configuration to reduce drag and increase fuel efficiency.
One of the advanced design concepts – the D8 or "double bubble" – is now a subscale model being tested in a wind tunnel at MIT.
Designed for efficiency, the D8 has a very wide fuselage to provide extra lift and low-swept wings to reduce drag and weight. A team led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed this future subsonic aircraft concept for NASA and a subscale model is now being tested in an MIT wind tunnel.
This aircraft design faces the future head-on. Designed for NASA by a team led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the model in this MIT wind tunnel has a very wide fuselage for extra lift, low-swept wings for reduced drag and weight, and engines above the fuselage for noise shielding.
Bright Minds, Right Ideas Professor Mark Drela (center), chief engineer of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology aircraft design team, helps undergraduate students Nina Siu (left) and Mike Lieu (right) position a model of the D8 "double bubble" in a wind tunnel at MIT.
Coming up with a solution to meet a variety of challenges often requires starting with many and narrowing it down to just a few. This image illustrates the kind of process that teams of industry and academia researchers used to come up with their select design concepts to meet environmental and performance goals set by NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate for commercial aircraft that could be flying in 20 to 25 years.
The "double bubble" D8 Series future aircraft design concept comes from the research team led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
This future aircraft design concept comes from the research team led by GE Aviation. Much lighter and more aerodynamic than current aircraft with the same capacity, the 20-passenger aircraft would reduce fuel consumption and noise and enable business jet-like travel between more than 1,300 airports.
The Silent Efficient Low Emissions Commercial Transport, or SELECT, future aircraft design comes from the research team led by Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation.
The Subsonic Ultra Green Aircraft Research, or SUGAR, Volt future aircraft design comes from the research team led by The Boeing Company. The Volt is a twin-engine concept with a hybrid propulsion system that combines gas turbine and battery technology, a tube-shaped body and a truss-braced wing mounted to the top of the aircraft.
This future aircraft design concept for supersonic flight over land comes from the team led by the Lockheed Martin Corporation. The team used simulation tools to show it was possible to achieve over-land flight by dramatically lowering the level of sonic booms through the use of an "inverted-V" engine-under wing configuration.
The "Icon-II" future aircraft design concept for supersonic flight over land comes from the team led by The Boeing Company.
The Hybrid Wing Body H-Series future aircraft design concept comes from the research team led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This design is suitable for intercontinental flights and larger passenger loads similar to a Boeing 777.