NASA is collaborating with Boeing on a project to improve the sustainability of aircraft design, as part of its efforts to reduce fuel consumption. The $1.15 billion project aims to build and test a more fuel-efficient version of the Boeing 737, which currently accounts for nearly half of all domestic flights in the US. The new design will incorporate the latest advancements in aerodynamics and composite materials and could cut fuel usage by up to 30%.
If all goes well, the new aircraft could take its first flight in 2028 and become commercially available in the 2030s, bringing a major step forward in “green aviation”. NASA is also involved in developing other fuel-efficient technologies, such as upturned wing tips and more fuel-efficient takeoff and landing procedures, as well as electric propulsion and supersonic aircraft.
The new single-aisle aircraft design will include a cutting-edge design, a new set of engines, and long, slender wings that are stabilized with horizontal stabilizers. This configuration represents a major change in aerodynamics, with an increased aspect ratio of the wings to decrease drag. NASA has three main goals for the project: to design and test a new aircraft, to gather flight data to validate the technology, and to provide information to the industry for future aircraft design decisions.
NASA will be assuming the risk for the development and flight testing of the Sustainable Flight Demonstrator (SFD), which is considered an experimental aircraft. Testing will take place at Armstrong Air Force Base in California and will include wind tunnel tests and pilot simulations. NASA’s financial contribution will be $425 million, while Boeing will contribute $725 million.
While NASA will bring its technical expertise to the table, Boeing will bring its extensive knowledge of commercial aviation and its experience in integrating NASA’s innovations into existing aircraft.
The project will also bring financial benefits to Boeing, as the company predicts a need for 40,000 single-aisle aircraft between 2035-2050.
What will it run on?
The fuel that the SFD aircraft will run on was not specified in the information given. However, given that both NASA and Boeing have been actively involved in the development and commercialization of sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), it can be assumed that the engines of the SFD aircraft will run on sustainable jet fuel rather than conventional jet fuel in order to minimize carbon emissions. The ultra-thin wings, positioned above the fuselage and supported by spars, will create extra space underneath the wing for the advanced engines.