Eco-Climb: The Aviation Revolution
Increasing Air Travel a Challenge for the Environment
Today more people travel by air than in any other time in history. As of 2012 the number of global passengers carried by the world's 2000 airlines has already surpassed the 2 billion mark. Even in a climate of global economic recession that number is only going to rise in the upcoming years. Due to long-term trends such as urbanization, population growth, globalization and emerging economies, airports will only get busier in the decades to come. That poses huge challenges for the environment, but a solution is already in the making: Eco-Climbing Airplanes.
Military Technology adapted for Civilian Use
To avoid scaring civil passengers, the designation of the new system disguises the revolutionary concept that stands behind it, i.e. lifting airliners into the sky through linear-induction powered launching pads. Yet the principle behind eco-climbing is not entirely new. Military jets are already launched from aircraft carriers through catapults and stopped by arrest wires during landing. At the time catapults were put in place because carriers could not provide sufficient runway for the jets to reach take off speed. But the basic idea of an horizontal launch pad could well be adapted for civil aviation as well. And while the steam-driven catapults installed on today's carriers would put too much stress on airplanes, as well as requiring Top-Gun like physical strength from passengers to resist the extreme g-forces, an electrical powered launch system would resolve all these issues.
Linear-induction powered motors are already installed in high-speed trains such as the one at Shanghai's airport.
The History of Flying
No Mere Science-Ficition
In a pilot project Airbus, an industry giant and Europe's largest aviation company, is adapting the linear-induction motors to runways. Compared to catapults the acceleration through electrical motors is scalable, so passengers would not be exposed to higher g-forces than those experienced during today's take-offs. By reversing the electrical current these induction-powered runways would also be suitable for landing.
One huge advantage of the new launching pad is that it would allow for lighter aircraft, thereby reducing fuel consumption. The engines of today's airplanes are also disproportionally big for cruising, but indispensable to guarantee enough power during take-off. Furthermore, as airplanes spend most of their time cruising at stratosphere levels, today's engines are optimized for high-altitude cruising, thereby burning a disproportionate amount of fuel during take-off.
Once landing through reverse-induction becomes the standard, airplanes could also completely do without the landing gear, allowing for an ever lighter redesign of airplanes.
Another benefit of linear-induction powered runways would, of course, be the greatly reduced noise pollution of departing planes in the airports' neighborhoods. Besides, even the runway could be shortened allowing to reclaim precious land in densely populated urban areas.
Although eco-climbing airplanes will take time to develop, it is clear the idea is no mere science-fiction. General Atomics, an American military contractor, has already successfully tested a linear-induction start-platform at the airbase in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Sooner or later the new system will be installed in aircraft carriers. Is it only a matter of time until induction-powered runways will lift the first passenger plane into the sky?
The future of flying
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