But would you want to sit in a plane with no windows?
We have been saying for years that flying is dying, and have watched as Flygskam has become a thing, but if you read the Airbus press releases, they plan to keep flying for a long time, whether with so-called sustainable aviation fuel, greater fuel efficiency or electric engines.
Over the years they have been making their planes lighter and and have improved fuel efficiency by 2.1 percent per year between 2009 and 2020, almost getting to the fuel per passenger mile burned by a Lockheed Constellation from the 1950s.
Now Airbus is proposing a “blended wing body” (BWB) design that could reduce fuel consumption by 20 percent. They have built a working model called the MAVERIC, and do not say when a full-size version will be airborne. The designs are more efficient because the plane's entire fuselage provides lift, not just the wings, and there should also be reduced drag.
The spacious configuration also opens up the design space, enabling the possible integration of various other types of propulsion systems. In addition, noise is expected to be significantly reduced thanks to a “shielded” engine that is mounted above the central body.
I am not convinced by the interior, so many seats across! This is truly an air bus. At least you won't be fighting for a window seat, there aren't any windows.
And, if commercialised, a MAVERIC-inspired aircraft could significantly improve the passenger experience. A blended wing body design provides an exceptionally comfortable cabin layout, enabling passengers to benefit from additional legroom and larger aisles for more personal comfort.
Eric Adams writes in Wired that blended-wing body designs are proven (the B2 bomber has been flying for 30 years), but building a commercial aircraft is not going to be easy.
The plane’s structure, with a larger interior, would need to accommodate different pressurization requirements, says University of Toronto aerodynamics researcher Thomas Reist. The trick will be making the plane strong enough to do that without adding weight and reducing efficiency. Stability is also an issue. “Without the horizontal and vertical tails that tube-and-wing aircraft have, maintaining a stable and controllable aircraft is much more challenging,” Reist says. The B-2 is notoriously difficult to fly, requiring constant computerized stabilization to keep it safely in the air. That’s why Airbus says controllability is the primary interest area for the Maveric program.
But Airbus's VP of engineering thinks these problems can be beaten, which is why they have revived the idea of a BWB. Engineering VP Jean-Brice Dumont tells Aviation News:
“What makes us wish to revive the BWB now? Some technologies have improved; we can make the aircraft lighter and our flight controls and computing capabilities are one level higher. That means we can face the challenges at least a level higher than before....The pressure we are under and the fact we need to disrupt to reach emissions objectives in 2050 forces us to drive down avenues we wouldn’t have gone down earlier. That’s because the equation was not resolvable and now we believe it is.
A 20-percent increase in fuel efficiency won't cut it in 2050, but they are also looking at electric motors. As Dumont concludes, "We need to come with disruptive options and enter service at the earliest possible date to bring benefits by 2050. The clock is ticking." We concur.