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Aviation: Boeing reveals thin wing concept

Could this be the shape of airliners to come?

Boeing is studying the Transonic Truss-Braced Wing concept through a collaboration with NASA as part of the Subsonic Ultra Green Aircraft Research program. (Boeing Creative Services illustration)

Boeing has unveiled a new conceptual design study for an airliner of the future, based on a Transonic Truss-Braced Wing (TTBW). The US firm claims the ultra-thin TTBW will enable aircraft to fly higher and faster than earlier concepts based on similar technology, and will be able to operate efficiently at Mach 0.80 - a similar speed to current medium-sized airliners.

TTBW measures 170ft and has folding tips - similar to those on the forthcoming 777X - that will enable it to park at airport gates sized for the current crop of narrow-bodied airliners (current 737s have a span of 117ft). The extreme wingspan is made possible by the truss, the lower airfoil shaped bracing structure, that supports the ultra-thin airfoil.

Boeing has enhanced its previous TTBW concepts that were designed to fly a little slower - between Mach 0.70 and 0.75 - by including an optimized truss and modifying the wing sweep. These changes enable the truss to carry lift more efficiently and lead to a more integrated design that significantly improves performance.

The new configuration comes from extensive wind tunnel testing at NASA Ames Research Center. For almost a decade, Boeing and NASA have been studying the concept as part of the ten-year Subsonic Ultra Green Aircraft Research (SUGAR) program. The research focuses on innovative concepts that reduce noise and emissions while enhancing performance and improving efficiency by reducing fuel burn.

A 15% moedl of Boeing TTBW in NASA's wind tunnel. (NASA Langley / Sandie Gibbs)