Manta rays might be the shape of things to come, at least when it comes to the future of air travel.
European aviation company Airbus has unveiled a radical new potential design for its future aircraft, which breaks the mould of the traditional airplane by blending the wings and body into one wedge-shaped form. The miniature aircraft’s shape resembles the smooth, organic curves of the manta ray, a fish that glides through the world’s oceans.
The cutting-edge design, code-named “MAVERIC,” is expected to reduce future aircraft carbon emissions by up to 20 per cent, Airbus says. The company unveiled its new design at the Singapore Airshow earlier this week, after completing several secret tests on a 3.2-metre-wide, remote-controlled model in France.
MAVERIC stands for Model Aircraft for Validation and Experimentation of Robust Innovative Controls, according to Airbus. It’s also a pretty obvious nod to Maverick, Tom Cruise‘s iconic call sign from the fighter-jet film Top Gun.
“We believe it is high time now to push this technology further and study what it brings to us,” Jean-Brice Dumont, executive vice-president of engineering at Airbus, told reporters at the airshow.
“We need these disruptive technologies to meet our environmental challenge,” Dumont said. “It is the next generation of aircraft.”
He added that the design is still just an “option” for Airbus’ next generation of planes, which won’t go into production until the 2030s.
Blended-wing aircraft designs have been around since the Second World War, and the most famous example is perhaps the U.S. government’s stealth B-2 bomber. Boeing also produced an experimental drone aircraft based on the design, called X-48. The shape makes aircraft more aerodynamic, although it also makes them more complicated to fly.
Airbus is just the latest company trying to re-invent the commercial airplane with more eco-friendly designs. However, it’s all still a work in progress.
Dumont says Airbus is still trying to figure out where to put the passenger cabin and windows in these manta ray-shaped planes. The shape also makes for a more wobbly flight experience because passengers are sitting further from the aircraft’s centre of gravity.
In other words, the new design might one day get you to your destination faster, but you might not want to travel on a full stomach.
—With files from Reuters