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The Flying-V: This aeroplane concept design is music to its inventors' ears.

Played by such creative visionaries as Dave Davies, Jimi Hendrix and Keith Richards, the Flying-V electric guitar was a futuristic blast of fresh air when released by Gibson in 1958. Its pointed corners and jagged profile were in sharp contrast to the rounded curves of conventional models, and the guitar eventually became a design icon after being played by some of the 20th century's foremost rock talents.

Half a century on, that simple V shape still has the power to shock--especially when applied to a creation as monumental as a 314-seater airliner. The "radically new" Flying-V is a concept from the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands. Backed by Dutch airline KLM, and partially based on a V-shaped Airbus patent, the Flying-V is hailed as "an entirely different approach to aircraft design".

The blended-wing body integrates the passenger cabin, cargo hold and fuel tanks in the wings. The design includes two efficient turbofan engines, mounted towards the back on the same structure as the landing gear strut to minimise the number of heavy-duty elements.

The design's wingspan, passenger seating and cargo volume--65m, 314 and 160[m.sup.3] respectively--all match the Airbus A350, referred to by a TU Delft announcement as "today's most advanced aircraft". The key predicted difference, however, is 20% lower fuel consumption thanks to its "improved" aerodynamic shape, reduced weight and decreased size from the 'V' shape.

Why, then, has no one done it before?

Pump it up

For project leader Dr Roelof Vos, the reason is straightforward. Pressurising a plane is like pumping something up, he says--objects want to expand into spheres when filled with air. Embracing that property, the aerospace engineer and colleagues created the 'oval fuselage'. The design consists of tangentially connected circular arcs, with a trapezoidal substructure to carry compressive and tension loads.

Vos has worked on the idea since 2011, but the right application was never there--until the V-shaped Airbus patent came along. "You have got to know about these individual components in order to connect them and see the synergy," he says, and the current project is combining the two concepts.

Rocking out

Initial test results from simulations are positive, says Vos, showing benefits to weight and drag reduction. Wind-tunnel testing at low speeds shows vortex formation, however, while a high-end simulation does not--the "first and foremost" task is to show that the aeroplane can fly in a stable manner at very low speeds, says Vos.

There are "challenges in all aspects of the design," he says. "You can show this aeroplane to any disciplinary expert and they will come up with new questions that relate to the discipline they are active in. Talk about maintenance of the engines, or inspection, or comfort of the passengers or undercarriage kinematic systems--there are still quite a lot of things that need to be covered."

Will it fly?

With renewed scrutiny on airline emissions and the concept's potential 20% fuel saving, it seems likely that determined development work will continue. The project will present a flying scale model and a full-size interior section at KLM's tooth anniversary celebration in October. But will a full-scale Flying-V ever fly?

"I really hope to fly in it," says Vos. "I've been thinking about this aeroplane for the better part of three years now, and it's starting to get a little bit more concrete. How cool would it be if at some point you could step into your own idea? It would be pretty crazy."
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Title Annotation:WEIRD ENGINEERING
Publication:Professional Engineering Magazine
Date:Jul 1, 2019
Words:580
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