NASA and Boeing Partner to Make Airplanes More Efficient

NASA and Boeing Partner to Make Airplanes More Efficient

Boeing Transonic Truss-Braced Wing Concept

Image: Boeing

Passenger planes are not the most efficient vehicles in the world. Although the aviation industry managed to increase its efficiency by more than 130 percent between 1978 and 2021, more was still possible. That brought NASA and Boeing together, as CNN reports, the two are working on technology that could make air travel much more efficient than it is today.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson issued a statement outlining the goals of the partnership:

Our goal is that NASA’s partnership with Boeing to manufacture and test a full-scale demonstrator will help future commercial aircraft be more fuel efficient and have benefits for the environment, the commercial airline industry and passengers worldwide. If we are successful, we may see these technologies in airplanes that the public will take to the skies in the 2030s.

So the fruits of these two’s labors won’t be a new aircraft per se, but they will come up with a more efficient design for future aircraft. Dubbed the Sustainable Flight Demonstrator, the key to all of this is reducing the aircraft’s drag.

NASA chose Boeing for the development of the Transonic Truss-Braced Wing aircraft, which was officially unveiled back in 2019. The design increases the aspect ratio of the wing and is made of lightweight materials. Because of this, the wings are also thinner. The aircraft has a wingspan of over 170 feet and is supported on a truss along with a slightly modified swept wing. According to Boeing, this increases efficiency while providing the same performance as today’s aircraft.

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While Boeing has enough pockets to do such a thing itself, the partnership gives it access to deep government pockets — and aerospace research. The whole thing is funded by the Space Act Agreement, which allows NASA to work with any outside entity that “fulfills the mandate of the administration.” This means NASA will contribute $425 million over seven years, as well as its vast facilities and engineering resources. Meanwhile, Boeing is offering $725 million and access to the vehicle’s specs.

Eventually, the partnership hopes that 50 percent of the commercial airline industry will use efficient technologies developed from the plan.