Aircraft manufacturer SE Aeronautics is looking to break with tradition by redesigning its aircraft to create more efficient and greener passenger aircraft.
While engineers are experimenting with greener solutions in the design of smaller planes, including electric and even solar-powered aircraft, it is difficult to make big changes to the design of huge passenger aircraft, with the batteries needed to power them still too heavy to carry them far, for example. The Airbus A380s have a maximum flight range of around 15 000 kilometres, but replacing kerosene with much lower energy density lithium-ion batteries would mean that they would have to carry radically more weight (because of the batteries), which in turn would increase fuel consumption, creating a vicious circle, or reduce their range on a single charge to a fraction of the current one or two thousand kilometres.
This is why, for larger machines, manufacturers are trying to achieve greener, lower-emission operation by using green fuels or, as in the case of the Rolls-Royce Ultrafan engine, by making the propulsion system more efficient. Airbus is planning to launch three hydrogen-powered passenger aircraft, not too far from 2035, but only one of them will have the capacity of a typical passenger aircraft, i.e. 100-200 people.
However, SE Aeronautics believes that there is no need to wait for battery technology to develop, and that the emissions problem could be solved much sooner by a simple method of radically redesigning aircraft structures. This could be achieved by making the wings flatter, almost razor-thin, and by having more of them, with three pairs of wings to help with climbing. To achieve this new wing design, the fuel tank would have to be relocated on the aircraft, and SE Aeronautics would build hoses into the top of the fuselage. The fuselage would be made from a single continuous piece and would be of a so-called monocoque design, meaning that the separate fuselage and undercarriage would be combined in a single structural element, with the load being borne by the outer layer.
The motors, which can sometimes bite the birds and cause them to fail, would be placed on the tail section, one above the other, to avoid accidents, so that even if the plane loses one of its motors, it would remain more controllable, according to the company. The SE200 will be able to carry 264 passengers, will have a maximum cruising range of almost 17,000 kilometres and will be able to travel at speeds of up to 1,100 km/h. Thanks to a special design, multiple wings and lightweight composite materials, fuel consumption will be reduced by 70% and the plane could operate for up to 50 years, according to Tyler Mathews, the company’s CEO.
How this completely new form will work in practice is yet to be seen, as the SE200 is currently in the patent phase, with construction and production only starting afterwards, but the company is aiming to revolutionise the whole aerospace industry with a concept that, given the huge emissions, is becoming increasingly timely.