Aircraft Design

Innovation machine

By Cat Hofacker

March 1, 2024

Ken Plaks, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office

Pilot on board

By Paul Brinkmann

January 1, 2024

In its initial flight test campaign, Electra established a distinctive course for itself in the emerging field of advanced air mobility through its lift-enhancing design and avoidance of remote piloting. Paul Brinkmann tells the story.

NASA stands by its X-planes

By Pat Host and Ben Iannotta

November 1, 2023

A substantial portion of the agency’s aviation budget over the next four fiscal years will be dedicated to building and flying demonstration aircraft, including some with X-plane designations. NASA is staying with that plan, despite setbacks since the initiative was announced in 2016. Why is the agency so determined to continue, and when will the first of the experimental planes fly? Pat Host and Ben Iannotta set out to find out.

A Manhattan Project for the climate

By Paul Marks

September 1, 2023

Even if a new breed of aircraft powered by hydrogen were available by 2035, that might not be fast enough to help much with the industry’s goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Paul Marks takes us inside the technical challenges facing hydrogen aircraft — and the case for vastly increasing the resources currently applied to the necessary technologies and infrastructure.

Tomorrow’s firefighting fleet

By Keith Button

July 1, 2023

The growing frequency and intensity of wildfires has operators clamoring to increase the number of large air tankers in their fleets. Should they turn to refurbished civilian and military planes, or clean-sheet designs? Keith Button spoke to U.S. agencies, industry groups and aircraft developers about the ongoing debate.

The bridge to net-zero

By Cat Hofacker

March 1, 2023

What’s the solution for achieving net-zero air travel by 2050? Hydrogen? Electrification? Rushing sustainable aviation fuel into today’s jets? At least part of the answer could take flight in 2028. Cat Hofacker looks at the history and promise of Boeing’s Transonic Truss-Braced Wing demonstrator.

So you think you know lift? Better read this

By Ben Iannotta

February 1, 2023

Given how deeply air transportation is woven into modern life, it’s surprising that the precise workings of aerodynamic lift remain a topic of debate among the experts. To sort all this out, I met on a video call last month with Paul Bevilaqua, retired from Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, and Haithem Taha of the University of California, Irvine. I learned about several myths and at least one collapsing theory. Here is our discussion, lightly edited and compressed.

Supersonic twist

By Aaron Karp

February 1, 2023

Engine design will be key to reviving commercial supersonic air travel in a way that is affordable and environmentally palatable. After a setback in September, Colorado-based Boom Supersonic believes it now has the right engine team and approach. Aaron Karp tells the story.

Martian aviator

By Paul Marks

January 3, 2023

Ben Pipenberg, chief engineer of Mars Helicopter Programs at AeroVironment

B-21 unveiling

January 3, 2023

Thoughts about the design, and why civilian designers are intrigued by blended-wing-bodies too.

NASA’s boom buster

By Paul Marks

November 1, 2022

Society has changed in the years since NASA announced it would commission construction of an experimental plane to target sonic booms. Environmental sustainability is now the mantra among commercial aircraft designers and operators, and the industry’s zest for supersonic flight has cooled. With the X-59’s first flight approaching, Paul Marks tells the story of the plane’s remarkable engineering and why NASA still believes it can catalyze supersonic flight for all.

Going the distance

By Aaron Karp

September 30, 2022

Flight testing is underway for the Gulfstream G800, slated to be the longest-range business jet yet produced. Perhaps fittingly, one of the first of those flights was a transatlantic trip. Aaron Karp tells the story of how Gulfstream delivered the G800 to the Farnborough International Airshow.

Emissionless air travel: how it might be achieved

July 7, 2022

The air transportation industry wants to achieve net-zero carbon emissions, but its strategy does not include emissionless aircraft. While no one can guarantee the feasibility of such aircraft, especially for long-range flight, NASA’s Dennis M. Bushnell says untapped aerodynamic innovations show tremendous potential toward that goal.

Seeking certification

By Aaron Karp

May 1, 2022

Joby Aviation is working with FAA to get its electric aircraft design certified in 2023 so that the company can begin ferrying passengers around major U.S. cities in 2024. Can the advanced air mobility company cross the finish line? Aaron Karp set out to find the answer.

Start your motors

By Cat Hofacker

January 1, 2022

Nicholas Borer has one New Year’s resolution: get NASA’s X-57 flying


By Jan Tegler

February 1, 2021

With their ability to manipulate their surroundings, morph, bend and change color, our planet’s creatures and plants outperform our sophisticated flying machines in some respects. Though long intrigued by this reality, aircraft engineers have yet to fully plumb biology for design inspiration. This is set to change, and Jan Tegler shows us how.

Quest for 90,000 feet

By Keith Button

November 1, 2019

Creating a piloted glider that can soar into the stratosphere on waves of air rising over the Andes required some creative safety innovations. Keith Button tells the story of Perlan 2.

For Vahana, a study in coping with complexity

By Keith Button

June 1, 2019

Urban air mobility concepts tend to be odd-looking airframes covered with propellers. The innovations promise maneuverability and energy efficiency, but they also bring aerodynamic complexities. How does one control such an aircraft? Keith Button spoke to the designers of Vahana, the Airbus urban air mobility demonstrator, to find out.

Making 3D-printed parts for Boeing 787s

August 31, 2018

Companies face an array of crucial technical decisions as they pioneer additive manufacturing techniques for parts on commercial aircraft that must carry hundreds of passengers safely to their destinations.

Containing a blade-out

By Keith Button

July 1, 2018

NASA has long been working with the FAA and the aviation industry to improve technologies for containing broken fan blades and preventing damage like that which killed a Southwest Airlines passenger. Keith Button looks at a research project that could help prevent future tragedies.

Fighting for “Future Vertical Lift”

By Jan Tegler

July 1, 2018

Rotorcraft advocates in the U.S. military have been laying the research groundwork to replace many of today’s helicopters with versions that would employ a revolutionary propulsion concept to-be-decided. Jan Tegler looks at the battle to elevate the Future Vertical Lift initiative into an acquisition program and speed up its schedule.

Symbiosis: Why CFD and wind tunnels need each other

By Joe Stumpe

May 31, 2018

As powerful as computational fluid dynamics and supercomputing are, they have not come close to relegating wind tunnels to history. In fact, in the U.S., a new tunnel is going up at MIT, and NASA is deliberating whether it should close a historic tunnel at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia four years from now as planned.

Grading the MQ-25

By Jan Tegler

April 30, 2018

Is the U.S. Navy's proposed refueling drone the best strategy for empowering pilots to penetrate enemy airspace?

Wringing out the risks

By Keith Button

March 2, 2018

Mathematicians are exploring an entirely new approach to making aircraft safer

Research reboot

By Keith Button

February 28, 2018

The U.S. Air Force Research Lab will spend much of 2018 taking a fresh look at its approach to science and technology

Meeting millennials

By Amanda Miller

February 1, 2018

Young aerospace professionals' career goals nurtured by love of science

Performance predictor

By Joe Stumpe

February 1, 2018

Researchers work on a computational tool to predict the performance of long, narrow wings

Magic material

By Keith Button

October 30, 2017

Mixing up an alloy that changes shape at specific temperatures

Soaring education

By Adam Hadhazy

May 31, 2017

Aerospace engineering educators employ some surprising teaching tools and methods

War on wiring

May 1, 2017

A look at the payoffs and challenges of removing wires from airlines


By Joe Stumpe

April 17, 2017

The U.S. Air Force is having a hard time letting go of the A-10

New blueprint, old dream

By Debra Werner

March 6, 2017

Designing a jet-fast plane that can stop on a dime in midair, hover and speed off

Stall recovery

March 6, 2017

Businesses are racing to meet an FAA mandate for training

Flying fast, flying quiet

By Keith Button

January 27, 2017

The curves and features of Lockheed Martin’s supersonic X-plane model have specific purposes in the quest to show the feasibility of Mach 1-plus passenger jets.