Pursuing even more innovative ways to improve aviation’s fuel efficiency, Boeing and its partners are researching new CO2 and noise reduction technologies through the ecoDemonstrator programme, launched in 2011.
Since then, it has tested more than 50 new technological innovations on a Next-Generation 737, the 787 Dreamliner and a 757. Some of the success stories with these experiments include the winglet technology used on the new 737 MAX and a lighter-weight composite component for the Dreamliner.
In 2015, Boeing teamed up with NASA and TUI Group to test more than 15 technologies on the ecoDemonstrator 757. In cooperation with NASA, the ecoDemonstrator 757 tested active flow control on the airplane’s vertical tail by using small jets of air to improve airflow over the rudder, maximising aerodynamic efficiency.
An aircraft’s vertical tail is primarily used to add stability and directional control during take-off and landing, especially in the event of an engine failure. But the large, heavy tail is not necessary when the aircraft is cruising at altitude. Based on ground testing, active flow control could reduce the size of the tail by an estimated 17%, which would significantly save weight as well as drag.
Two other experiments were designed to avoid an issue that you might not expect to affect a plane’s efficiency: insect build-up on the wings. Drivers will be well-familiar with the issue of insect build-up after long road trips. On aircraft, something as small as insect residue interrupts laminar flow, or the smooth flow of air over the wing. On the left wing, Boeing tested a Krueger shield to block insects from hitting the wing’s leading edge. And on the right wing, in collaboration with NASA, the ecoDemonstrator tested several ‘bug-phobic’ coatings, with NASA reporting that one coating reduced bug remnants by as much as 40%.
Aside from Boeing proprietary technology, the results of ecoDemonstrator testing conducted with NASA will be shared publicly to benefit broader industry environmental goals.