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"The future of flying"


 
Sunday, December 10, 2000

The future of flying
By GERRY CARMAN
Australia - The Age


It looks nothing like a contemporary airliner. Gone is the traditional
mating of cylindrical fuselage with wings and a tail. All it appears to be
is a chunky flying wing.

In aeronautical parlance it is called a blended wing body, and if the top
designers at Boeing's futuristic Phantom Works have their way, the BWB could
be carrying commercial passengers and performing military duties in 10 to 15
years.

Boeing - smarting from a six-airline contract under which its B747s will be
replaced by French company Airbus' double-decker A3XX - has just begun a
$US100million ($A182 million) study phase of the radical new design that
could forever change the shape and economics of aviation.

The initial sizes being considered range from 600, 450 and 250-seaters, with
a 170-seater and an 800-seater also envisaged. Even the largest model would
fit inside the so-called 80-metre-square box considered critical for docking
at existing airport terminals.

It would be powered by three or four engines and have a range of about
13,000 kilometres.

The BWB, which would seat as many as 30 passengers abreast because it will
use the wide space offered by blending the wings as part of what is now
known as the fuselage, will also have as much scope as Airbus' A3XX for
innovative amenities for passengers in the lower cargo hold.

The BWB would be offered with such facilities as casinos, crèches, showers,
gyms and duty-free stores if these are maintained as long-term fixtures on
the A3XX, which is due to enter service in 2006 with Qantas, Singapore
Airlines, Emirates, Air France and Virgin Atlantic.

Boeing is considering building BWBs that range from 120-seaters to
800-seaters - the largest model being a double-decker, like the A3XX.

The final "cabin" lay-out will depend on what individual airlines want but
Boeing drawings show a couple of basic configurations, each involving five
partitions the length of the aircraft to create the appearance of a normal
cabin. Passenger acceptance studies have begun and the lack of windows for
passengers seated away from the outside rows would be compensated by
television projections either on artificial windows or individual television
monitors that would give a view of the outside, to reduce the feeling of
claustrophobia.

The concept of a flying wing had its genesis in the 1940s but the idea never
progressed beyond a military prototype until the advent of the Northrop
Grumman B2 Spirit stealth bomber, which flew for the first time in July,
1989. The blended wing concept has been backed at the highest level at
Boeing. The advanced studies have been sanctioned by Boeing's chairman and
chief executive, Phil Condit, who was the lead designer on the B747 in its
infancy and has worked on every other commercial jet the company has been
involved with - including its stillborn supersonic transport which would
have competed with Concorde.

"I hate losing," Mr Condit said, referring to Qantas' selection of the A3XX.

Mr Condit acknowledged in response to questions from The Sunday Age that the
Phantom Works was working on developing the next generation of very large
aircraft and that new technologies from the massive military Joint Strike
Fighter project would lower the cost of manufacturing the BWB.

The BWB has been planned as a commercial and military transport, freighter
and aerial tanker. Boeing believes the concept promises efficiencies of up
to 20per cent on conventional designs. According to the vice-president and
general manager of the Phantom Works, George Muellner, a military version
could be available in 2007-08, with commercial variants following in about
2010.

Mr Condit was more inclined to a 2012-2016 timeframe.

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