A miniature model of the aircraft of the future from KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has just completed its first flight – a milestone for the Dutch airline, which is planning a push towards more efficient and environmentally friendly aircraft.
When the futuristic-looking Flying-V successfully soared into the skies over Germany this August, the engineers got a first look at the machine that could one day be the new flagship of the KLM fleet. The remote-controlled flight was the culmination of two years of work by engineers from KLM and Delft University of Technology.
The Flying-V differs from conventional aircraft in that the fuselage and wings have been merged. The new long-haul aircraft from Airbus and Boeing aim for greater efficiency through the use of composite materials and fuel-saving engines. So-called flying wing aircraft, however, raise the issue of efficiency to a new level – with a radically new aerodynamic fuselage design that enables greater ranges and better fuel performance.
According to scientists, the special design could even reduce the fuel consumption of the most modern aircraft such as the Airbus A350 and Boeing 787 by 20 percent. Both models are currently used by Air France-KLM, the parent company of the Dutch airline and one of the largest airlines in Europe.
At the annual general meeting of the International Air Transport Association in Seoul, South Korea, in June 2019, KLM announced that it would work on the construction of the aircraft together with TU Delft.
The design of the flying wing aircraft is gaining ground
Airlines and aircraft manufacturers look beyond today’s conventional aircraft to designs of the future, with the concept of flying wings gaining in importance. Industry trends call for smaller and more efficient aircraft, as opposed to the golden age of aviation when larger aircraft like the four-engine Boeing 747 were needed, which were once required for long-haul non-stop travel.
According to KLM, the Flying-V has the same wingspan as an Airbus A350, which means that existing airport gates and taxiways can be used. A problem that engineers had to solve with the new Boeing 777X with folding wing. The Flying-V should be able to cover longer distances than the A350 with the same fuel load and approximately the same number of passengers.
The passenger cabins would likely be split between the two sides of the V-shaped hull. The turbofan engines that power the wings would be mounted on the fuselage instead of under the wings – a rare but proven design.
The engineers and researchers from KLM and TU Delft directed the maiden flight to an air force base in Germany, where the aircraft model was manned by a drone pilot who operated the aircraft by remote control.
“It took us two years of intense and stressful work to experience this moment,” explained Malcolm Brown, TU Delft’s lead engineer for the Flying V test program, in a video of the event. “Then the confirmation that the machine is flying and all the hard work has paid off and it was worth investing all the hours to make sure everything was built correctly and correctly.”
While not a full-size prototype, the miniature model proves that the machine is aerodynamically flawless and can fly as planned. Now it’s up to KLM and TU Delft to build a full-size prototype that can accommodate passengers – a project that could cost billions in research and development.
The European aircraft manufacturer Airbus presented its flying wing demonstration model at the Singapore Airshow 2020 in February and thus expressed interest in the design with the “fused wings” as a guideline for its commercial aircraft fleet. Representations of the interiors show passenger cabins arranged in parallel, which use the width of the aircraft to their advantage in order to accommodate additional passengers.
The US military has its own flying wing, a stealth bomber called the B-2 Spirit, which has served the US Air Force since 1993, according to the military information page “Military”. The B-2 Spirit is designed for speed, inconspicuousness and range and, according to the US Air Force, can fly over 11,000 kilometers without stopping.
So far, KLM has not given a schedule when the Flying-V can be expected. However, it can take around 10 years to develop an aircraft from the drawing board to certification.
This article was translated from English and edited by Nora Bednarzik, the original can be found here.