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NEWS Last modified on January 5, 2016

NASA unveils new solutions that it claims offers US airlines more than $250 billion in savings

It is claimed that US airlines could realise more than $250 billion in savings in the near future thanks to green-related technologies developed and refined by NASA's aeronautics researchers.

NASA states that these new technologies, developed since 2009 under the purview of its Environmentally Responsible Aviation (ERA) project, could cut airline fuel use in half, pollution by 75% and noise to nearly one-eighth of today's levels.

"If these technologies start finding their way into the airline fleet, our computer models show the economic impact could amount to $255 billion in operational savings between 2025 and 2050," said Jaiwon Shin, NASA's associate administrator for aeronautics research.

Created in 2009 and completed in 2015, ERA's mission was to explore and document the feasibility, benefits and technical risk of inventive vehicle concepts and enabling technologies that would reduce aviation's impact on the environment.

Project researchers focused on eight major integrated technology demonstrations falling into three categories – airframe technology, propulsion technology and vehicle systems integration.ATL

By the time ERA officially concluded its six-year run, NASA had invested more than $400 million, with another $250 million in-kind resources invested by industry partners who were involved in ERA from the start.

"It was challenging because we had a fixed window, a fixed budget, and all eight demonstrations needed to finish at the same time," said Fayette Collier, ERA project manager.

"We then had to synthesise all the results and complete our analysis so we could tell the world what the impact would be. We really did quite well."

NASA says that tiny embedded nozzles blowing air over the surface of an airplane's vertical tail fin showed that future aircraft could safely be designed with smaller tails, reducing weight and drag.

It claims to have developed a new process for stitching together large sections of lightweight composite materials to create damage-tolerant structures that could be used in building uniquely shaped future aircraft that weigh as much as 20% less than a similar all-metal aircraft.

NASA says that it successfully tested a radical new morphing wing technology that allows an aircraft to seamlessly extend its flaps, leaving no drag-inducing, noise-enhancing gaps for air to flow through.

And it reveals that it worked with General Electric to refine the design of the compressor stage of a turbine engine to improve its aerodynamic efficiency and, after testing, realised that future engines employing this technology could save 2.5% in fuel burn.
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The agency also worked with Pratt & Whitney on the company's geared turbofan jet engine to mature an advanced fan design to improve propulsion efficiency and reduce noise and argues that if introduced on the next-generation engine, the technology could reduce fuel burn by 15% and significantly reduce noise.

As part of the closeout work for the ERA project, information and results regarding each of these technology demonstrations were categorised and stored for future access and use by the aerospace industry, and will be discussed at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Sci-Tech Conference in San Diego this week.

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