Everyone on this planet recognises the shape of an aeroplane, right? But do they know what an aircraft of the future might look like?
There’s something about the name Maverick. For those of you who would care to remember, it was Tom Cruise’s call sign in the 1986 blockbusting Hollywood production Top Gun. The movie with Cruise starring in the lead role of the swashbuckling US Navy pilot Pete Mitchell, didn’t just launch F-14 Tomcats off a pitching and heaving carrier deck but also flew Tom into the heady world of tinseltown’s A list celebs where he continues to cruise without pause. As a matter of fact, the sequel to the original, Top Gun: Maverick is set to release in theatres around the world on June 26. Yet, even as we wait for the return of Maverick to light up our screens with his flying daredevilry, this time under the glass canopy of an F-18 Hornet, American aviation giant Airbus has introduced us to another MAVERIC at the recent Singapore Air Show.
At a couple of metres long, 3.2 metres wide and with a total surface area of around 2.25 square metres, MAVERIC – short for Model Aircraft for Validation and Experimentation of Robust Innovative Controls, is a scale model technological demonstrator of what Airbus envisions as the future of commercial aeroplanes. Behold, the blended wing body.
So far the idea of what an aeroplane looks like has been embedded into our brains. A single long tubular structure with wings on either side where the tube or fuselage forms the principal and only cabin/cargo space. In a blended wing body, the idea of a conventional fuselage section has been replaced with the idea of using a body construction form where essentially the wings and the main body of the aircraft are integrated to form one composite (not composite construction) structure. As a result possibilities of new integrating new forms of propulsion systems and the creation of a more versatile cabin for a brand new on-board experience open up like never before. The fact that the blended wing aircraft would probably be around 20 per cent more fuel efficient also helps things along.
Airbus launched the MAVERIC programme in 2017 but it wasn’t until 2019 that MAVERIC really took to the skies. Since then it has been a routine of continuous flight testing and further development that will go on till the second quarter of 2020. Indeed the company is using all its core strengths and capabilities in engineering and then manufacturing to accelerate research. “Although there is no specific time line for entry-into-service, this technological demonstrator could be instrumental in bringing about change in commercial aircraft architectures for an environmentally sustainable future for the aviation industry,” says Jean-Brice Dumont, executive vice president – Engineering at Airbus.
What would all this mean for us? Well for starters, more of us would be able to fly together in relatively more comfort and space since the blended wing configuration allows for more compact external dimensions while liberating more cabin space. Provided of course airlines can hold on to their greed of cramming more people into a single aircraft and making even more profit than they do. Perhaps the cost of airfare would also reduce since greater number of passengers and lower fuel requirements for the same distance would mean savings for the operating airline. For now, it’s a scale model and some of you may already be rolling your eyes, but just think for a second how many people might have laughed at Orville and Wilbur’s outlandish ideas. Who do you think had the last laugh?
“THINK FOR A SECOND HOW MANY PEOPLE MIGHT HAVE LAUGHED AT ORVILLE AND WILBUR’S OUTLANDISH IDEAS. WHO DO YOU THINK HAD THE LAST LAUGH?”