Next supersonic plane might be a biplane

March 16, 2012 at 8:31 PM
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CAMBRIDGE, Mass., March 16 (UPI) -- Supersonic travel could make a comeback, U.S. researchers say, with a technology from an earlier era in aviation -- the biplane.

The supersonic Concorde sped passengers between New York and Paris for 27 years in a journey taking just 3 1/2 hours, but expensive tickets, high fuel costs, limited seating and noise disruption from the jet's sonic boom finally ended the service in 2003.

A researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says commercial supersonic travel could come back, this time on two wings instead of one.

Qiqi Wang, an assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics, says computer models suggest a modified biplane can produce significantly less drag than a conventional single-wing aircraft at supersonic cruise speeds, using less fuel and creating less of a sonic boom.

"The sonic boom is really the shock waves created by the supersonic airplanes, propagated to the ground," Wang says. "It's like hearing gunfire. It's so annoying that supersonic jets were not allowed to fly over land."

In Wang's design, the two wings -- one positioned above the other -- would cancel out the shock waves produced from either wing alone.

In the computer models the conceptual plane was able to fly at supersonic speeds with half the drag of conventional supersonic jets such as the Concorde, which Wang says could cut the amount of fuel required to fly the plane by more than half.

"If you think about it, when you take off, not only do you have to carry the passengers, but also the fuel, and if you can reduce the fuel burn, you can reduce how much fuel you need to carry, which in turn reduces the size of the structure you need to carry the fuel," Wang says. "It's kind of a chain reaction."

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