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'Green' dream plane mimics UFOs

Home for the holidays? Maybe you'll hop inside this flying saucer, circa 2050.

Maybe you'll fly inside a saucer someday.
Maybe you'll fly inside a saucer someday. CleanEra, Delft University

The grand Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus a380 may usher in an era of more fuel-efficient air travel, but their bird-shaped designs could look downright primitive later in the century.

Dutch aerospace engineers are imagining aircraft that look less like today's big-nosed winged planes, which haven't changed much in shape since the 1950s, and more like flying saucers. So maybe you can rest assured that those UFOs you spotted aren't signs of spying aliens, but instead are just your great-great-great-grandchildren traveling home for the holidays from a future when both saucer planes and time travel exist. The design comes from the CleanEra project at the Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands. CleanEra stands for Cost-effective Low Emissions And Noise Efficient Regional Aircraft.

The project is geared to meet European goals to design quiet, lightweight, post-2025 passenger fleets that halve the globe-warming, air-polluting carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide spewed by today's planes. While radically re-imagining the architecture of aircraft with saucer shapes or even bringing back propellers, CleanEra's plans are also putting biofuels and hydrogen on the table.

By contrast, the new Boeing 787 already looks retro.
By contrast, the new Boeing 787 already looks retro. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Airplanes emit up to 3 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, an amount that could double by the middle of the century as more jet-setters take to the skies, according to the International Governmental Panel on Climate Change. But the airline industry has a long journey ahead to make air travel cleaner and greener.

(via LiveScience and Treehugger)