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KLM invests in Flying-V blended wing concept aircraft research

[All images courtesy KLM/TU Delft]



Is "V" the shape of things to come?

With their eyes on sustainability, lightweighting, and efficiency, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has signed a new cooperative agreement to work with Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands to further develop the boomerang-shaped "Flying-V" aircraft design, which aims to carry the same number of passengers as the long-range, twin-engine, wide-body Airbus A350 -- but use 20 percent less fuel.

What's really different here (besides the obvious blended wing), is that passengers will fly inside the wing structure itself.

"Radically new and highly energy-efficient aircraft designs such as the Flying-V are important," says Henri Werij, dean of the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering at TU Delft, "as are new forms of propulsion. Our ultimate aim is one of emission-free flight. Our cooperation with KLM offers a tremendous opportunity to bring about real change."

The concept plane is not as long as the A350, but it does have the same wingspan. The designers say this will enable the Flying-V to use existing infrastructure at airports, such as gates and runways, without difficulty, and the aircraft will also fit into the same hangar as the A350. It will also carry the same number of passengers (314) and the same volume of cargo, 160 m3. But the Flying-V will be smaller, overall, than the A350, giving it less aerodynamic resistance.

The Flying-V will provide researchers a unique opportunity to improve passenger experience in aircraft, from the seating layout in the wings to the design of the seats and bathrooms. For this project, everything has to be as lightweight as possible in order to maximize the efficiency gain the new aircraft shape provides. Passenger comfort will also be taken into account.

The developers are keeping their propulsion options open, too. Conceptually, the Flying-V would be propelled by the most fuel-efficient turbofan engines that currently exist. In its present design, it still flies on standard jet fuel, but the designers say it can easily be adapted to make use of electrically boosted turbofans or other, more efficient propulsion systems in the future.

A flying scale model and a full-size section of the interior of the Flying-V will be officially presented at the KLM Experience Days at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol in October. The occasion will mark KLM's 100th anniversary.

In a video interview by Bloomberg TV posted June 3, 2019, KLM's president and CEO, Pieter Elbers, addressed the company's commitment to sustainability and backing developmental and experimental projects. Elbers said the company has already invested in a bio-fuel factory that will be built in the Netherlands, for one.

"We will not build aircraft. Neither will the university," said Elbers. "When it would come to a real design, it has to be by the manufacturers."

"But what I would like to do, in fact, is to reach out to all the parties," said Elbers, "and say 'Hey, this (sustainability) is an industry problem. How do we work together on this?'" Elbers also said he considers sustainability and the technological innovations to come "a licence to grow" for the airline industry as a whole.

Elbers estimated it may take until 2050 to see such a design as the commercial passenger Flying-V come to fruition.

VIDEO: TU Delft Flying-V concept video.

Sources: KLM, TU Delft, Bloomberg

Published June 2019

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