Blended wing planes have been an inspiring idea since the 1920s. By flattening the whole plane, the entire fuselage generates lift, while the wings are used primarily for steering. This can purportedly lead to a lift-to-drag ratio that’s up to 50% better than conventional tube-wing (think commercial aircraft) designs. If such planes were just 10% more fuel efficient, the industry would save about $7 billion a year.
For a project by Intel, student scientist Connor Lynch ran a wind tunnel model comparing these ideas, and then he passed the data to graphic designer Mikell Fine Iles. The result was the graphic you see here. It’s two planes both cutting through the air. The top is a blended wing craft; the bottom is a tube. The rainbow surrounding them is their impact on the air around them—both aerodynamically (the shape) and environmentally (the color).
"Brighter, more colorful hues have lower impact on the environment," Iles tells Co.Design. "The tube-wing design struggles to move beyond the darker browns, grays, and oranges that it produces in the atmosphere. Meanwhile, the blended-wing model is shown slicing through these layers of bad air quality with much more ease."
Part data, part artistic editorial, a pile of aeroscience jargon becomes a concept you can understand intrinsically—and it’s pretty enough to hang on your wall to boot.
So all of that said, why aren’t the major airlines all flying blended-wing planes? According to PopSci, a big reason is the lack of windows and usable exits that you get in the ubiquitous tube body. But for $7 billion in plane ticket refunds and less fossil fuel consumption, I’d bet most of us would settle for a few really nice video screens.