News FocusEnergy Efficiency

Aircraft Designers Shoot for Savings on the Wing

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Science  14 Aug 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5942, pp. 810
DOI: 10.1126/science.325_810

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Commercial aircraft have become steadily more fuel-efficient—simply in order to fly farther and more cheaply. The greatest gains in the past have come from better engines. In addition, computational fluid mechanics has enabled designers to refine the shape to reduce drag—an enemy of efficiency. Manufacturers have also reduced weight with lightweight materials such as plastic. But efficiency increases beyond that may require a radical change in the shape of the aircraft, which carries enormous risks for manufacturers and airlines.