Lift visualizes two ideas: lift vs drag, and the environmental impact that this has.

The blended wing cuts through the air sharply, with bright, environmentally positive colors.

Meanwhile, the tube-and-wing design of today is left, quite literally, in the dust.

And in its wake? A swirl of smog.

Infographic: Here's How To Make Airplanes Ultra Efficient

Blended wing aircraft are far more fuel efficient than the tube-and-wing designs the major airlines use. So why have we sided with inefficiency?

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.

Click to enlarge.

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.

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6 Comments

  • Alberto

    It's much easier and cheaper to construct a tube that you stick wings on, than to build a complicated blended wing body. Airlines and manufacturers also like the flexibility of modifying the length of commercial planes, which you cant really do with a blended wing body. 

  • Marc Lacoste

    Not really.

    A plane efficiency is a combination of factors, when you push one you often loose in other parts. A blended wing would perhaps have a lower form drag, but would have a larger surface, thus more friction drag, would have a lower aspect ratio thus higher induced drag, would be larger and more heavy and thus neccessitates a bigger wing: vicious circle (and I'm pretty sure it would have a bigger front area too and lower laminar part).

    And if you loose the tail, you still have to have stability surfaces included in the wing in the form of an autostable profile (like a ~) lengthening them, same vicious circle of surface drag and added weight, to balance with a long tail and small horizontal surface.

    For exemple, the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P... with a cylindric fuselage and thin, high aspect ratio wing needs 1700hp to move 11 people at 395 knots is way more efficient than the blended wing, Burt Rutan designed http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B... which needs 2400hp to move 7 people at 305 knots (both are 1986 designs).

    Modern planes are astoundingly brilliant : the 787 needs 2L/100km per seat, same as a petrol car 10 times slower. The same car would need 100 times as much power to be this fast (the drag comes with the square of the speed) and would consume 10 times more.

  • Ioseebee

    Why not re-orientate the exits/seats and windows left to right across the blended wing design, with fuselage running front to back? I am sure there may be obstacles to this in terms of other risks such as fire and accident/safety, but mayeb these could be overcome for a fuel efficient blended wing design that also allows forward viewing windows and exits to rear?

  • Matt Tonner

    "lack of ... usable exits"? I'd say that's a pretty damning flaw unfortunately.

  • Truth

    But to doesn't seem to be an insurmountable design challenge to the point where it would hinder the development of new aircraft designs.