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Folding wings and a Boeing 737 engine with a diameter: what are the new flagships of aviation

This week it became known about sunset short, but still legends: the Airbus A380 program will officially be closed . The latest copy of the world’s largest passenger aircraft will leave the assembly hall in 2021. Then, only one mastodon will remain on the conveyor belt – Boeing 747-8I. But this veteran also did not remain for long: he is the liner of the old era, which has no place in future aviation. Now begins the era of folding wings, hybrid power plants, a different approach to aerodynamics and materials used. And all this we will see in the next decade.

Failure a380

Briefly about how Airbus vuhala more than $ 25 billion to develop the A380 and curtailed the program just twelve years after the start of operation of the liner. The term is extremely small for such an aircraft. For example, the Boeing 747 on commercial flights since 1970 – nearly half a century. True, it appeared at a completely different time, when environmental standards were not so tough, and liners with two engines could not cross the Atlantic for security reasons. Airbus wanted to repeat the success of the 747, but thirty years later, when the world changed dramatically.

Airbus A380. Image: Airbus

Able to take on more than five hundred people, the A380 had to meet the demand in the fast-growing Asian market. It didn’t happen: the liner turned out to be specific for use – it wasn’t possible to fill such a number of seats on all flights, which made the effectiveness of the hulk dubious. Plus other problems: maintenance of four engines is more expensive than two or three, long wings (span of almost 80 meters!) Simply did not fit in some hangars, and more personnel should be allocated to such a large salon.

Trick boeing

At the same time, Boeing has relied on a bit smaller ships – and they have a lot of advantages. Using two engines instead of four means better fuel consumption and allows you to increase the range: almost between any point in the world you can make a flight without refueling. These planes are the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Boeing 777. The Dreamliner is still young and electronics packed so much that Tesla would envy. But the “three sevens” needed to be updated. And for restyling, Boeing prepared a revolutionary thing in the airline industry.

By itself, the Boeing 777 is an unusually reliable and successful aircraft, with stable demand among airlines for it. But the liner has been exploited since the mid-nineties, and although it was regularly updated, a radical shake was now needed. Boeing promoted and positioned the 777 as much as a replacement for the A380, despite the lower passenger capacity.

Boeing 777-300ER. Image: topspeed.com

Boeing decided to invigorate with 777 technologies and practices, which for the first time applied on another extremely modern liner – 787 Dreamliner. First of all, it is about the widespread use of composite materials. They allow you to improve strength and at the same time reduce weight compared to traditional alloys from the aviation industry. Therefore, efficiency is improved.

The new generation has received the prefix “X” to the name. The wings of the 777X are completely different – composite, as in the Dreamliner. Actually, it is easy to notice a similar shape of the wings between these two liners – they are slightly bent upwards. But if the Dreamliner is “just a wing”, then the 777X has become a pioneer. This is the world’s first passenger aircraft with a folding wing.

Transformer wing

The decision itself is not new: even at the dawn of aviation there were planes with a similar feature. The advantage of such a system is obvious – the liner takes up less space. This is especially important in the Navy. Let the aircraft carriers in area and approach some agro-towns, but still you need to approach the space wisely. And so the planes with folding wings appeared.

Image: theverge.com

Until recently, the world of civilian air travel ignored this trend. However, the wingspan of the Boeing 777X turned out to be as much as 71 meters (235 feet). The Airbus A380 is 79 meters away, but the figure is still big. Worst of all, the new aircraft could not fly to airports, where the regular 777 fly – they have everything in order with a wingspan.

The fact is that airports are divided into categories, and Boeing sought to keep the new “three sevens” in the E segment (span of 52–65 meters) and not bring it to F (65–80 meters). Therefore, the Americans took over the folding mechanism of the wings, which will fit into the restrictions of airports such as E. In the folded state, the span is reduced to 64 meters (212 feet): then the plane will fit into the smaller hangar and it is easier for them to part with other liners. In flight, the wings will always be fully decomposed.

Image: Boeing

The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has developed a list of requirements for commercializing an aircraft with a similar system. The rules concern not only obvious things like the absolute reliability of the mechanism, but also a number of “foolproof” measures. So, electronics in several stages will inform the crew before take-off that the wings are not laid out. If the pilots ignore the signals, the liner simply does not go into the takeoff configuration. At the same time, the wings must withstand gusts of wind at a speed of 120 km / h at any angle. In addition, when flying, the tips will be fixed only mechanically – the power to the electrical components is completely turned off so that the software failure does not lead to the folding of the wing.

Super engine

Finally, the liner will receive new engines GE9X. General Electric created them specifically for the 777X. It is the world ‘s largest aviation engine. The diameter of the air intake is about 4.5 meters. To understand the scale: the width of the fuselage Boeing 737 – 3.76 meters, height – 4.01 meters.

Composite parts with a ceramic matrix can cope with increased thermal load due to higher pressure – such a material is better able to withstand huge temperatures. The composite blades are only sixteen, while the engines of the current 777 are twenty-two. In the production of parts for GE9X, even 3D printers are used. Thanks to these engines, the 777X will consume 10% less fuel compared to the previous “sevens”.

All this – folding wings, composites, top engines – will make the Boeing 777X one of the flagships of long-haul flights for the coming decades. Boeing calls the 777X a replacement for the 747th. And since he is competing with the Airbus A380, the hint is very bold – the X will easily replace the A380, which was already closed for Boeing. At the moment, we know about two modifications of the liner – 777-8 and 777-9. The second version, larger, will be able to take on board more than four hundred passengers. Although this is noticeably less than the minimum of the A380, there are tangible advantages: cost effectiveness, no problems with airports and storage, maintenance should be cheaper. They are also talking about the appearance of an even more capacious version of the 777-10, plus a cargo modification will most likely come out.

The quietest liner from Airbus

And what about the Airbus? Like no one else, the concern has seen the growing problems with the A380, which is why Airbus companies immediately refused the liner to the A330 and A350 XWB. If the “three hundred and thirty” a little smaller and mostly with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the older versions of the A350 XWB (Extra Wide Body) compete with the 777X. And the plane also turned out super modern.

For example, Airbus claims that the A350 XWB is quieter than the 777 and 787 Dreamliner. It is not clear whether this also concerns the 777X: after all, the new Boeing has never flown, so there are no live comparisons. But for passengers, the parameter is extremely important: the A350 XWB is designed for long-haul flights, and by the third hour of the flight, the monotonous hum of the engines starts to drive anyone crazy. Also here is an advanced air system: the air supplied to the cabin is more humid in comparison with other liners, which will make the trip more comfortable.

The first flight of the Airbus A350 XWB. Image: talkativeman.com

Another important point is that the A350 XWB has a better flight range indicator: 15.6 thousand kilometers versus 14 thousand for the Boeing 777-9. VIP-performance of these aircraft and do approach to 20 thousand kilometers, but for commercial flights such a range can not be done yet: private jets are easier because of the absence of hundreds of passengers and their weighty suitcases.

Airbus also managed to fit into E-class airport standards without implementing a folding mechanism like the 777X. The A350 has a wingspan of 64.75 meters – and no rising tips. In this case, the dimensions of the aircraft are comparable, the passenger capacity too. In general, the struggle between the ships will be more than tense.

New move Boeing

At this concern do not stop. A boeing of about nine years experimenting with a strut-wing. In simple terms, this is a wing that is supported at the bottom by an angled support.

The benefits of such a decision are many. First, the wing can be made thinner, which reduces air resistance and improves aerodynamics. Secondly, the length of the wing does not impair its rigidity – the brace provides the necessary strength. Because of this, however, you will probably have to use a folding structure, but Boeing has already tested the mechanism on the 777X. Thirdly, the strut dampens more vibrations, and consequently, higher speeds are available to the aircraft – they are called transonic.

Image: Boeing

Such a liner does not penetrate the sound barrier, however, it will approach it – the flight speed should be about 0.8 Mach (depending on conditions, on average, slightly less than 1000 km / h). Tests in the wind tunnel on the model Boeing 737 has already been passed – so far the results are excellent. Also, the Chinese Comac is experimenting with the cusping wing, which at the same time is preparing to impose on its C919 competition Boeing 737 and Airbus A320neo. Whether it will work or not is completely incomprehensible. And do not forget about the Russian MS-21. Talking about a serial liner with a strut-wing is not yet necessary, but the chances of seeing such a plane one day are very high.


The struggle for fuel economy and silence forces manufacturers to look at other power plants, including electric ones. Now in the development of several drones-taxis, and almost all of them will be with electric motors. But much more interesting is Zunum Aero – a small company financed by Boeing and JetBlue Airways. The startup threatens to launch a ZA10 aircraft for regional aviation with electric hybrid motors by 2022. The liner will be small – about twelve passengers. Without an ordinary engine, the plane will not remain, but it must be used purely as a generator. Will the electric airliner become a new reality that cars are already predicting, we will find out in the coming decades.

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