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New Fuel-Efficient Supersonic Biplane Could Break the Sound Barrier

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If you remember the Concorde, its story was pretty sad: a good plane but tainted with bad luck! It offered very short flights but the pricey tickets and the noisy trips just got to be too much for its passengers. So it exited the market in 2003.

Today, MIT researcher Qiqi Wang thought about reviving the legend and came up with the double-wings concept. Together with Rui Hu, a postdoc in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and Antony Jameson, a professor of engineering at Stanford University, he offers this as a solution to the drag problem of the Concorde and improve the fuel necessity as well.

What actually happens is the following: a plane takes off and starts accelerating towards the speed of sound, creating an air compression at the end and the front. As soon as the sound speed is attained and then exceeded, the air pressure gives off two shock waves at each end and the sonic boom is born.

By placing two wings on either side, one on top of the other, each would cancel the other’s shock waves, because they all look like a flattened triangle, with the top and bottom wings pointing toward each other.

If only it could be that easy! It’s very possible the air flow between the wings could actually create more drag than usual; not at the supersonic speed itself, but during the time it takes to get there. So after a dozen different speeds and 700 wing configurations, the three came out with the “perfect” timing and the “perfect” wing shape to keep the haul down: a finer inner surface and a more swollen top edge of the higher wing and the bottom edge of the lower wing. This caused the plane to hang back half as much as normally and consume less than half in terms of fuel.

Of course, the researchers have to take into account all the factors affecting a flight, which actually determine one another. For example, if they reduce the amount of fuel burned, the planes won’t need to carry so much fuel, so they can build them smaller.

In the meantime, a Japanese team is experimenting on a Busemann-like biplane, whose wings change their shape while speeding up for the supersonic one. Whatever it looks like, we just hope the Concorde is back in the sky for swift, pleasant flights!

[via MIT News]

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