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Boeing, NASA look to flying geese for jet-fuel savings

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posted on Aug, 29 2017 @ 12:31 PM
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I did a search and I didn't see this posted anywhere, so here goes:

Boeing, NASA look to flying geese for jet-fuel savings



Boeing and NASA have found an inexpensive way to cut airline fuel bills by borrowing a trick from the world's greatest long-distance aviators: migratory birds.

By lining up cruising aircraft in a V-shaped formation favored by Canada geese, carriers would be able to produce a leap in efficiency without investing in structural makeovers or futuristic technology. The idea is to link the flying convoys safely using navigation and collision-avoidance tools that already are widely installed in cockpits.

"Think of a car drafting a truck, or one bike rider drafting another," said Mike Sinnett, vice president for product development at Chicago-based Boeing. "It essentially allows you, if you are flying in the right spot, to reduce your fuel burn. But you've got to be there for a long time."

Wake surfing, as the avian technique is known, involves harvesting energy from a lead plane - a potential way to cut fuel bills, which typically rank as the biggest or second-biggest expense for airlines. A NASA researcher points to studies showing fuel savings of 10 percent to 15 percent, on a par with pricier options such as upgrading engines or installing winglets.

The concept is one of dozens under study at Boeing. The company is also looking at long, glider-like wings beneath a plane to save fuel, as well as how to manage the boom from supersonic flights. The Chicago-based planemaker is also studying artificial intelligence that would allow a single pilot to be at the controls during a long cruise, a potential step toward fully autonomous flights.

There's a catch, though. Before jets can glide on vortices at 30,000 feet, carriers would need to determine how to schedule planes onto the same route with extreme precision. That's a big ask for an industry already flummoxed by weather, employee hours, maintenance requirements and air-traffic congestion.

"Airlines can barely keep a schedule, anyway," said aviation consultant Robert Mann, an aerospace engineer and former airline executive. "I would argue that they can't."

Flying in formation holds greater promise for services with fewer scheduling variables, like manned and unmanned military aircraft, or, eventually, flocks of Amazon drones dropping off packages, he said.

Cargo operators might be able to change scheduling or routing to get multiple airplanes to the same place at the same time, said Curt Hanson, a NASA senior flight-controls researcher.

A study that wrapped up this year may help debunk the view that airlines would need extensive cockpit upgrades to fly in tight formation. Hanson looked at linking wake-surfing Gulfstream business jets using equipment that has to be installed in U.S. aircraft by 2020. The tool - automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast, or ADS-B - transmits a plane's position and velocity twice a second, providing more accurate readings than radar.

NASA measured considerable fuel savings that could be gained without making passengers or air crews uncomfortable, said Hanson, who is based at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California.

Since the study isn't final, Hanson wouldn't discuss the magnitude of fuel savings. But he pointed to a wake-surfing demonstration of Boeing C-17 military transport planes earlier this decade that lowered fuel use about 10 percent. And a study pairing F-18 fighters around the turn of the millennium showed that formation flying reduced drag as much as 15 percent.


The article insists they could pull this off safely, and the big hurdle is scheduling the flights correctly so they can fly together. I don't know a lot about the airline industry but for commercial flights isn't there some kind of prescribed safety distance they try to keep aircraft away from each other? Would you be able to maintain that safe distance and take advantage of this aerodynamic advantage? It's a neat idea, but with millions of flights every year I'm just not sure about the safety factor. No matter how good your collision avoidance tech is, tech can fail. Keeping a safe distance seems like the most sure-fire way to avoid collisions.

Any pilots or aero engineers or at least someone familiar with commercial air operations can straighten me out here?




posted on Aug, 29 2017 @ 12:58 PM
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a reply to: face23785

Zaphod could clear some of those questions up for you, without a doubt.

I however, cannot. Cool article OP!



posted on Aug, 29 2017 @ 01:26 PM
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a reply to: face23785

Maintaining separation isn't the only problem. Current separation minema would negate any formation benefit. You would simply be too far away, Another problem would arise when it came time to land. Even if you could fly 5 aircraft in formation on a Cat III ILS approach to minimums, you can only land one at a time. for instance, the most commonly used runway at Kennedy is 200 feet wide. The A380 wingspan is 262. The 777 is 200 and the 787 is 197. So, 4 of the 5 would have to circle while the 1st landed, eating up some of that fuel savings. Wake turbulence separation requirements would require quite a bit of delay. I don't know if they are foreseeing coupled autopilots doing the flying or whether hand flying is foreseen. Autopilots have too much lag time. And not every airline pilot has the skill and training to safely fly a 350 ton chunk of aluminum at Mach .82 in a tight formation for 10 or 12 hours at a time through turbulence and temperature changes causing mach number variations.I can tell you from personal experience that flying a tight formation for half an hour can be physically and mentally exhausting.



posted on Aug, 29 2017 @ 02:10 PM
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lolll was already succesfully tested by mythbusters.. it works !
no some bo-bo's from nasa and boeing think that they are intelligent ! ????
edit on 29-8-2017 by ressiv because: (no reason given)

edit on 29-8-2017 by ressiv because: (no reason given)



posted on Aug, 29 2017 @ 02:12 PM
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The safety distance for jet aircraft is to avoid the vortex tubes that trail from the engines and wings. To achieve fuel savings through flying in V formation, the aircraft have to do the exact opposite.

With geese, they actually take turns at being at the head of the V and at the back. Then when flocks merge together, the minor v formation actually merge together to form one longer arm of the major V formation.



posted on Aug, 29 2017 @ 02:33 PM
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a reply to: ressiv

I'd imagine the scientific and engineering rigour of NASA and Boeing is a tad more thorough than Mythbusters.



posted on Aug, 29 2017 @ 03:26 PM
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If the airlines are moving that many people from one point to another simultaneously then wouldn't they do better with larger planes. I am assuming that fuel consumption for a single plane carrying X people would be better than two planes carrying 1/2(x). Sure takeoff may require more thrust but cruising might consume less when compared to a two plane set.

edit on 29-8-2017 by evc1shop because: spelling



posted on Aug, 29 2017 @ 03:28 PM
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a reply to: F4guy

This is exactly the kind of input I was looking for. That was kind of my point with the safety distances. Could you fly closer than that? Yeah I'm sure you could, but the extra room is there so that when something goes wrong, you don't collide.

I was talking to someone about this earlier today and they brought something up that I hadn't considered. At ground level, this drafting effect happens at relatively short timescales, ie something passes through the air, creates a wake, and if you're close enough you can follow in this wake and you don't meet as much air resistance (I realize I'm way oversimplifying this, just bear with me). However, at the altitudes commercial airlines fly cross-country routes on, there is less air pressure. Perhaps it takes the air longer to fill back into that wake, and you don't have to fly quite as close as I initially thought in order to see some benefit?



posted on Aug, 29 2017 @ 03:50 PM
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a reply to: face23785

Yeah, geese work, but they're looking at more realistic ways to save fuel. The Air Force has a couple programs going on now designed to improve fuel burn in large transports. A couple are showing pretty good numbers so far.

Boeing is also flying the EcoDemonstrator, which uses different airframes and technologies to improve fuel burn. Some of those are pretty interesting.
edit on 8/29/2017 by Zaphod58 because: (no reason given)



posted on Aug, 29 2017 @ 04:45 PM
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a reply to: Zaphod58

If you really. really want to save fuel, fly at an altitude that is less than or equal to one-half the wingspan of the aircraft. That puts you in drag reducing ground effect and seriously raises efficiency. Of course some of your fuel savings will be eaten up by the rise in needed barf bag purchases. Of course, Spirit, Allegiant and the other "nickel-dime -you-to-death" airlines will start charging for the bags. And more of the savings would be eaten up by the cost of installing terrain following radar and TFM mode autopilots in the aircraft. But think of the E Ticket ride over Colorado at 100 feet above ground level.



posted on Aug, 30 2017 @ 01:40 AM
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originally posted by: F4guy
a reply to: Zaphod58

If you really. really want to save fuel, fly at an altitude that is less than or equal to one-half the wingspan of the aircraft. That puts you in drag reducing ground effect and seriously raises efficiency. Of course some of your fuel savings will be eaten up by the rise in needed barf bag purchases. Of course, Spirit, Allegiant and the other "nickel-dime -you-to-death" airlines will start charging for the bags. And more of the savings would be eaten up by the cost of installing terrain following radar and TFM mode autopilots in the aircraft. But think of the E Ticket ride over Colorado at 100 feet above ground level.


There also the noise and higher air density, so you'd fly at much lover speeds.

Although Russians experimented with ground effect vehicles (Ekranoplan) for military purposes.



posted on Aug, 30 2017 @ 06:41 AM
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Call me stupid, but i thought id read many years ago that WWII fighters and bombers worked out flying in a tight v reduced fuel consumption for all except the lead plane.



posted on Aug, 30 2017 @ 10:25 AM
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a reply to: Trigger82

This rings a bell to me too, but obviously in combat you are willing to accept slimmer safety margins than the FAA is likely to approve for commercial travel where hundreds of passengers are at risk. There's been some interesting input from people who know more than me on these subjects, which is ultimately why I brought it here. I guess time will tell.



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