The machine’s shape means it has much lower drag, making it both cheaper and more sustainable to operate than a conventional machine of the same size.
The Celera 500L started out as a highly secretive project, the brainchild of Otto Aviation, who set out to revolutionise aviation. The Celera 500L is a jet that “with a top speed of 740 km/h and a range of 8,300 kilometres, is fully competitive with entry-level private jets (such as the Cessna Citation CJ3+ or the Beechkraft King Air 350), while its fuel consumption and consequently its operating costs are a fraction of those of conventional private jets.” In dollar terms, this means that the current operating cost of $2,100 per hour with the Celera will fall to $328, which promises to bring the convenience of private jet travel to many more people. This is reflected in the cabin design, with six first class seats in the 188 cm high cabin.
And when we talk about a technological revolution, we need a catchy buzzword or term, which in this case is laminar flow. The latter refers to the egg-shaped design of the plane, which means that the air is not swirling but flows in layers around the Celera’s body, resulting in much lower drag than in conventionally designed aircraft.
Laminar flow is thus essentially the opposite of turbulent flow and, as the NASA article from 2011 shows, it is the holy grail of aeronautical engineering, a principle that has been applied to aircraft design since 1930. 1930 was not today, and several NASA attempts to achieve this effect have failed, which is also an answer to the question of why, if it is such a technological marvel, it has not been kept in mind when designing aircraft. The problem is that laminar flow is difficult to achieve in practical conditions. All it takes is a few small, imperceptible errors in the manufacture of components and we can say goodbye to this positive effect. Unfortunately, it also turns out that between Mach 0.7 and 0.8, the deflection of the wings of the aircraft also hinders laminar flow – which is exactly the speed at which modern commercial aircraft travel. Moreover, this deflection is necessary at this speed, or if you want to travel even faster.
That’s pretty much what Otto Aviation founder William Otto Jr. might have been referring to when he told CNN that to maintain laminar flow you need a structure that doesn’t bend, wrinkle or change shape in any way, and that’s impossible to achieve with metals, so you need special alloys. For this reason, it is likely that if the Celera 500L is indeed realised in a long term viable form, the real revolution will not be in the use of laminar flow, but in the material from which the machine is built.
In any case, the company is now one step closer to achieving its ambitious goals, having completed the first phase of testing the plane, which represents fifty successful flights. Several flights have achieved a speed of around 400 km/h at an altitude of 4.6 km, which, according to the press release, foreshadows the possibility that the aircraft could reach its target of 740 km/h at an altitude of 15 km.
As can be seen, the objectives do not include reaching 0.7 M (corresponding to 857.5 km/h), where the wing deflection tends to occur. Even so, a perfect design will still be required even at lower speeds, and it is not yet known whether maintaining this will entail any extra maintenance work and, therefore, cost increases. During the tests, an infrared camera mounted on a companion aircraft was used to monitor the laminar flow and the data shows that Otto Aviation is closer to achieving its objectives, as the desired operational targets were achieved on all flights. In addition, the latest test flight was carried out using a sustainable fuel not specified in the release – which is good news because the Celera already consumed 80 per cent less fuel than a conventional aircraft of similar size, so, as the company’s optimistic release puts it, the model could revolutionise sustainable aviation.
Otto Aviation plans to start production in 2025 and is already in talks with several major airlines, but for now the plan is to sell the aircraft primarily to private individuals at a price of $5 million each.