A Bit of FuturismGetting and airplane off the ground might not take too much time, but it uses a relatively large amount of fuel because the engines have to be pushed hard to fight inertia and reach the required speed for take-off, and from the point of view of the airport and surrounding areas, having many airplanes take-off one after the other all day long causes a lot of local air and noise pollution... Is there a better way to do things? How can we make a big plane accelerate to the proper speed without burning all that fuel?
Saving Fuel, Reducing Noise & Emissions
Engineers at Airbus think they've got a solution. No doubt partly inspired by the steam catapults used on aircraft carrier to launch fighter jets, they are proposing to use induction electric motors - the kinds used in high speed trains - to help civilian airplanes accelerate to their desired speed in a greener and quieter fashion.
The aircraft to be launched would sit on a platform that ran along a track where the runway would otherwise be. The platform would accelerate to take-off speed, at which point the plane would lift into the air powered by its own engines.
Taking off in this way would both save fuel and make life more pleasant for those who live near airports. Aircraft engines are optimised for level flight at cruising speed in the stratosphere. Using them to accelerate a plane on the ground wastes a lot of fuel. An induction-motor-powered platform, by contrast, would be optimised for the job at hand. It could launch the plane at higher speed, letting it climb faster. That would save fuel, too. It would also mean fewer people on the ground suffered aircraft noise. And it could do all this from a track that was a third shorter than a conventional runway. (source)
Combine This Tech With Others And You Get...If you combined this electric catapult with other green aviation innovations like MIT's planes that could be 70% more fuel efficient, computerized air-traffic controls that could save lots of fuel, carbon-neutral aviation biofuels, especially those made form non-food crops, etc.. You can get air travel that is significantly greener than what we have now, so that we could keep the positives of air travel (and there are many) and remove most of the negatives.
Via The Economist