Aircraft Technology, Integration and Operations

New designs offer promise of speed and utility

The Aircraft Design Technical Committee promotes optimization of aircraft systems, including analysis of their future potential.

Existing aircraft manufacturers brought out new models, and new companies developed concepts for urban air mobility and other applications this year. Numerous first flights were conducted, making this an exciting time for aircraft designers.

Existing aircraft companies such as Gulf-stream, Boeing and Airbus continue to innovate with new configurations and modifications of existing ones. The Gulfstream G500 earned its type certificate and production certificate from the FAA in July. The G500 can fly 9,630 kilometers at its best cruise speed; at its high-speed cruise of Mach 0.90, the G500 will fly 8,149 kilometers. The aircraft has earned more than 20 city-pair speed records, most of them at Mach 0.90. In March, Boeing had its first flight of the 737 Max 7, the smallest variant of the new 737 Max line. According to Boeing, “The Max 7 has a range of 3,850 nautical miles, the longest of any Max family airplane.” Both the Boeing 787-10 and the Boeing 737 Max 9 in Feburary received their FAA certification to begin deliveries. Major developments on Boeing’s military aircraft side included the selection in August of its MQ-25 Stingray design as the U.S. Navy’s new carrier tanker drone. A month later, the U.S. Air Force chose Boeing’s new design for the T-X trainer, replacing the Northrop T-38 Talon.

In July, European manufacturer Airbus flew its new BelugaXL aircraft designed to provide large aircraft component transport. The BelugaXL is based on an A330-200 freighter aircraft and is powered by two Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines. Airbus said that “the lowered cockpit, the cargo bay structure and the rear-end and tail were newly developed jointly with suppliers, giving the aircraft its distinctive look.” The Airbus Perlan 2 glider set a world altitude record, exceeding 76,000 feet in early September. This subsonic flight even exceeded the maximum powered subsonic aircraft record set by the U-2. Airbus also delivered the first A321neo Cabin Flex to Turkish Airlines in July. The aircraft has seating for up to 240 passengers and will be the basis of the new A321LR. In February, Airbus delivered the first A350-1000 to Qatar Airways.

General aviation continues to be robust in new vehicle concepts. In August, Privateer Industries of Titusville, Florida, conducted the first flight of its prototype seaplane, the Privateer. Equator Aircraft Norway flew its P2 Xcursion seaplane prototype in July. Bye Aerospace flew its solar-electric survey aircraft, or SOLESA, in August. The company hopes to market the SOLESA as a long-endurance aircraft for a variety of missions. Bye also flew the Sun Flyer 2 electric-powered flight training aircraft designed to meet Part 23 requirements.

Airbus’ subsidiary A3 first flew an unmanned version of its urban air taxi, the Vahana, in February. Several companies besides Airbus are vying for a part of the emerging urban air mobility, or UAM, market. The advent of advanced electric power propulsions systems scalable to small manned aircraft has ushered in a plethora of designs from a variety of new companies. The Workhorse Surefly prototype, Pipistrel’s Alpha Electro, Magnus eFusion, Kitty Hawk’s Flyer, Opener’s latest BlackFly, eHang 184 and others had first flights in the past year. Pushing the UAM trend with ideas and funding are companies like Uber, Alphabet and others. Dozens of companies are working to take flight with prototypes within the next year.

Contributor: Suzanne Swain, Gulfstream

Editor’s note: Michael Drake works with Boeing.

Photo: Airbus in July flew its BelugaXL for the first time. The design is based on an A330-200 freighter. Credit: Airbus

New designs offer promise of speed and utility