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Goals for greener flight

NASA has some pretty lofty goals for the future of commercial aviation, and in working with some of the aircraft industry's biggest players this past year, the space agency is hoping to create partnerships that will lead to cleaner and greener ways to fly.

In the future, NASA wants flights that will burn 50 percent less fuel than aircraft that entered service in 1998, release 75 percent fewer harmful emissions, and minimize the radius of airport noise pollution by 83 percent.

At the Green Flight Challenge this past year, NASA's Centennial Challenges program asked builders to create ultra efficient personal flight vehicles, finding new ways to use the layers of uncluttered 3D space above us to get around, and now, NASA is working toward a better future for commercial flights, too.

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Aiming for better aerodynamic efficiency

One of Boeing's advanced vehicle concept designs aims to for better aerodynamic efficiency, creating as little drag as possible. Similar to the wing design of their X-48, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), this design differs in its placement of the Pratt & Whitney geared turbofan engines on the top of the plane's back end, with two vertical tails to shield the ground from engine noise. This design is built using additional technologies to reduce noise and drag, along with long-span wings to improve fuel efficiency, and could potentially go into production by 2025.

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Box wing design by Lockheed Martin

This box wing design by Lockheed Martin is made possible by the use of advanced lightweight composite (nonmetallic) materials. A Rolls Royce Liberty Works Ultra Fan Engine uses advanced turbofan technology to maximize efficiency, achieving a bypass ratio (the flow of air around engine compared to through the engine) nearly five times greater than that of current engines.

Updated:Caption:Photo:NASA/Lockheed Martin
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Hybrid wing body-type subsonic vehicle AMELIA

Working with a NASA Research Announcement grant, California Polytechnic State Institute designed the hybrid wing body-type subsonic vehicle AMELIA (Advanced Model for Extreme Lift and Improved Aeroacoustics). Able to handle steeper and shorter takeoffs and landings, AMELIA can potentially have a great impact on noise produced by airport traffic.

Updated:Caption:Photo:NASA/Cal Poly
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Wide fuselage provides extra lift

One of the more conceptual designs, the D8 or "double bubble," is now a subscale model being tested in a wind tunnel at MIT. The design, developed for NASA by a team led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has a very wide fuselage to provide extra lift, low-swept wings to reduce drag and weight, and engines sitting above the fuselage and aft of the wings to block some noise from reaching the ground.

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Northrop Grumman's flying wing

Northrop Grumman's flying wing concept is today just a computer model of what might one day become a cargo carrying aircraft designed to be very efficient and ultraquiet.

Updated:Caption:Photo:NASA/Northrop Grumman
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Embedded engines in the flying wing

Four Rolls Royce engines embedded in the upper surface of Northrop Grumman's flying wing design give the aircraft maximum noise shielding capabilities. Using knowledge from building military planes, Northrop Grumman puts this design together without a stabilizing tail, a first for the commercial aviation market.

Updated:Caption:Photo:NASA/Northrop Grumman
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Subsonic aircraft using a boxed or joined wing configuration

Seen here in an artist's concept drawing is a possible future subsonic aircraft using a boxed or joined wing configuration to reduce drag and increase fuel efficiency.

Updated:Caption:Photo:NASA/Lockheed Martin
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Exploring options for quieting the sonic boom

Our ability to fly at supersonic speeds over land in civil aircraft depends on our ability to reduce the level of sonic booms, says NASA, which has been exploring options for quieting the boom, starting with design concepts and moving through wind tunnel tests to flight tests of new technologies. The sleek, pointed shape of this design concept would reduce the sonic shockwave signature and also reduce drag, resulting in increased efficiency.

Updated:Caption:Photo:NASA/Lockheed Martin
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