A V-shaped model plane, displaying the KLM livery and DELFT University’s brand on its hull, took off from a German military airport for a series of test flights. The outcome of the trials performed on the ground and in the air led to a kaleidoscope of performance data now being analyzed by the scholars of the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, who have a leading role in this Airbus supported project.
More than 70 years ago, the name of the small town of Fassberg, located halfway between Hamburg and Hanover in Northern Germany, was in the headlines of the world press. Several British Royal Air
Force and U.S. Air Force “raisin bombers” took off from its air strip to West Berlin, packed with foodstuffs, consumables, and coal, to supply the city with vital goods during the Soviet
Blockade. This historical air bridge lasted almost two years from 1948 to 1949 and ended when the Soviets gave up their siege.
Since then it has been quiet in Fassberg, except when the German Luftwaffe’s combat aircraft take off on training flights.
Satisfying test results
In mid-July, however, new life came to the sleepy spot, when experts from Delft University and an Airbus team showed up to start a first series of test flights of their 22.5 kg and 3 m wide scale model of the Flying-V aircraft. This included different take offs and landings, flight maneuvers, taxiing on the ground, holding patterns and similar trials. The main objective was to get valuable on-site information of the flight characteristics following extensive wind tunnel testing and a series of ground tests in the Netherlands.
All in all, the Fassberg tests were successful, but some technical adjustments had to be made on the spot, such as changing the aircraft’s center of gravity and fixing the antenna to improve the telemetry. The flights also showed that the current design still caused some wobbling, leading to a rough landing.
Aviation aficionados need to be patient
Next, all data collected will be analyzed and the design of the aircraft finetuned for further research in a flight simulator. This is complemented by additional field tests to optimize the aerodynamic shape of the Flying-V and provide it with sustainable propulsion. According to project leader, Roelof Vos of Delft University, the design seems very suitable for utilizing liquid hydrogen instead of kerosene to power the engines. Although synthetic fuel seems to be the best option from today’s perspective, he adds.
If all goes well and provided stability issues, aerodynamics, flight characteristics, safety items, and other technical features have been satisfactorily solved, along with the long-term financing of the project, a full-scale Flying-V will take to the air in 7 to 10 years. From there, it might need another 10 years until the production of a fully-fledged Flying-V can be kicked off, Roelof Vos estimates.
The initiative for this project to integrate the passenger cabin, cargo holds and fuel tanks in an aircraft’s wing structure, came from Berlin student, Justus Benad while completing a thesis project at Airbus Hamburg. First computer designs and simulations showed that the aircraft’s improved aerodynamic shape in combination with reduced weight would lower fuel burn by 20% compared to today’s already very fuel efficient A350.
Cargo friendly aircraft
It is of shorter length than the A350, but the V-shaped wingspan has the same width as that of the A350. This enables future Flying-Vs to use the given infrastructure at airports, including gates, stands and runways. Also in regard to passenger numbers and cargo volumes, there are only marginal differences between both aircraft. Similar to the A350, the Flying-V can accommodate 314 passengers in a standard configuration. As for cargo, up to 14 LD-9 containers (223.5 cm, 317.5 cm, 164.6 cm each) would fit its 2 V-formed shanks, resembling the lower deck capacity offered by today’s A350 passenger version.
Following the Fassberg flight tests and the data evaluation, the partners involved – these are Delft University, Airbus, Technical University Braunschweig, and KLM – intend to put their heads together to develop a research plan to further elaborate the concept.+
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