2050 aircraft engine designs go radical, part 1

Aerospace executives, engineers, and scientists innovate in aircraft power and propulsion. Part one of two.
The search for ever-lower emission technology for future generations of aircraft engines is actively progressing on both sides of the Atlantic. Tucked away on a modest-size stand at this year’s Farnborough International Airshow was a highly varied collection of unconventional engine technology displays – a clear indication of radical innovation already being investigated as a part of Ultimate, the European Horizon 2020 research and innovation project.
The European Union and a consortium of five academic and four major industrial partners representing some of the most experienced and forward-looking expertise in the aerospace sector support the Ultimate project. Participants include:
  • Chalmers University of Sweden;
  • Cranfield University in the UK;
  • Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece;
  • Bauhaus Luftfahrt, Germany;
  • ISAE Supaero, France;
  • GKN Sweden, Rolls-Royce in the UK;
  • Safran Aircraft Engines, France;
  • MTU Aero Engines, Germany; and
  • ARTTIC, France. 

Slotted inlet model - open configuration Slotted inlet model - open configuration

The Ultimate project is part of the wider Flightpath 2050 program, which aims to achieve a 75 percet reduction in energy consumption and carbon emissions in the commercial aviation sector. Using today’s technologies alone, this highly ambitious target is unachievable within a timescale of just over three decades. Further, it is recognized that – allowing for the continuous incremental evolution of geared turbofans (GTFs) and advanced fan and compressor blade technologies – only more-radical innovation in engine design is likely to deliver the desired levels of performance if the efficiency, environmental, and noise targets are to be reached.
The Ultimate project identified three areas where existing engines don’t provide optimum performance and where new approaches might be addressed. The biggest losses in current state-of-the-art gas turbine engines were identified as in burner, core exhaust and by-pass technologies. Investigations focused, therefore, on design solutions that would change how engine architecture might be redesigned to give the results being sought.

propulsionSlotted inlet - closed

Two virtual 2050 baseline reference designs were envisaged to act as reference concepts representing possible future aircraft that would be suitable for both short-range and long-haul routes. This work was undertaken by Bauhaus Luftfahrt and looked at how incremental improvements might realistically improve efficiency by 2050 before radical new technologies could be introduced. The studies indicated that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions could be reduced by 55 percent for a short-haul aircraft and 46 percent for a long-haul design, relative to Year 2000 baseline levels.

The Ultimate project innovative changes were then applied and indicated that taken together, in addition to the incremental changes, performance could come close to the 2050 target levels. The resulting engine designs, and further evolution beyond that, could change the direction and pace of aircraft engine developments and might be regarded as a disruptive leap toward the next half-century.
Constant volume combustion systems showed benefits of up to 11 percent in fuel burn reductions for the long-range reference aircraft. Further improvements were shown as possible with intercooling, secondary combustion, bottoming cycles, and novel propulsor and nacelle designs. An intercooled recuperated engine concept was also developed to use secondary fluids for heat exchange. These Ultimate project core and innovative propulsion and integration technologies could, if proven to be robust and cost-effective solutions, introduce the biggest changes in engine development since the introduction of the jet engine itself.

Boxprop design cut-away model
Boxprop design cut-away model  


Click here to read part 2. 

Richard Gardner is an experienced public relations consultant, author, and editor, specializing in aerospace, defense, and transport as well as high-tech industry. Read more from Richard Gardner on SAE.org

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