Engineering Innovation Podcast and Radio Series

Re-thinking Airplane Design

PostedFebruary 8, 2013

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Anchor Lede: A couple of engineers were wondering if airplanes could be more fuel efficient, and decided to try a radical redesign.

Randy Atkins: Geoffrey Spedding, an engineer at the University of Southern California, says his South African colleague first suggested removing most of the plane’s tail.

Geoffrey Spedding: If you don’t need the tail you don’t need that long body. If you don’t need that long body, the body can be much shorter and fatter than it is now and better able to contain stuff.

Randy Atkins: Spedding says tests on models suggest it would also use less fuel…and, just coincidentally, it looks like a bird.

Geoffrey Spedding: The wing sits sort of on top of this wider, fatter body than we’re accustomed to, which is much more efficient aerodynamically than the long, cigar-like tube.

Randy Atkins: Feasibility may depend upon a plane’s mission, but Spedding says it points the way to energy saving ideas. With the National Academy of Engineering, Randy Atkins, WTOP News.