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Boeing’s ecoDemonstrator: Inside An Airborne Laboratory

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Boeing’s ecoDemonstrator: Inside An Airborne Laboratory

Boeing’s ecoDemonstrator: Inside An Airborne Laboratory
June 03
09:35 2015

MIAMI — As part of the ecoDemonstrator program, Boeing has been conducting several months of test flights with a 757-200 (cn 24627/293) in order to assess new technologies intended to improve the efficiency of flight operations and reduce environmental footprints. In total, Boeing has completed 250 hours since this third generation of ecoDemonstrators testing started in March.

The ecoDemonstrator program has been likened to “the Google Labs of Boeing” where projects compete in this airborne testing environment. Doug Christiansen, the manager of the 757 ecoDemonstrator program says the program’s advantage is “we have a technology pipeline where ideas compete to be on the eco demonstrator.”

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The 757-200 is the third platform for Boeing’s ecoDemonstrator program. Beginning in 2012 with an American Airlines Boeing 737-800 and following in 2014 with a Boeing 787, the program has tested many new technologies with highlights including: advanced laminar winglet flow technology which have found its way into the new 737 MAX winglet which has resulted in a 1.8 percent improvement in fuel efficiency and drag reduction, the world’s first “green diesel” test flights, and regenerative hydrogen fuel cell, blended biofuel.

EcoDemonstrators

In collaboration with the TUI Group, Stifel Bank, and NASA, this series of flights comprise part of a multi-year effort to accelerate testing, refinement and application of innovative technologies and methods aimed at optimizing aviation’s environmental performance during every phase of flight. TUI’s participation is especially noteworthy as it operates Europe’s seventh-largest fleet, which it bills as “the most fuel-efficient fleet of any European airline, at 69.9 gram of  CO2 emissions per RPK.” TUI was the UK’s first operator of the 787 and has 737 MAXs on order.

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“The ecoDemonstrator 757 furthers our commitment to accelerate innovative technologies for current and future airplane programs,” said Mike Sinnett, vice president of Product Development, Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “The Boeing ecoDemonstrator program is focused on putting new, more environmentally efficient technologies and airplanes in the hands of our customers sooner.”

“We are very pleased to partner with Boeing for the next phase of their ecoDemonstrator program, as TUI Group is highly committed to achieving further environmental efficiency across our whole business and remaining the industry leader on carbon efficiency with our airlines,” said Jane Ashton, the carrier’s director of sustainability.

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At first sight, the ecoDemonstrator vehicle might look like an ordinary 757 passenger jetliner, but actually it is an advanced flying test bed. On its left wing, Boeing has been evaluating variable caber Krueger flaps to resist insect residue and buildup. On the right wing, a NASA-developed, bug-phobic coating is tested on the leading edge to reduce residues left by bug strikes, hence enabling more drag-reducing laminar flow over the remainder of the wing.

Doug Christiansen, the Program Manager for the 757 ecoDemonstrator, explains that “we have a technology pipeline where ideas compete to be on the ecoDemonstrator.” Recently, Boeing was in Shreveport, Louisiana, (chosen by etymologists for the high amount of bugs in the air) completing five to six take-offs and approaches in a pattern to measure bug debris, even using an infrared camera to look at laminar flow across the wing. Scientists and engineers had the unenviable task to scrape and examine the bug debris after each flight, determining the effectiveness of the coatings and flaps.

Another technology tested by NASA under the Environmentally Responsible Aviation (ERA) program is Active Flow Control Jets, where air is blown from the APU on the vertical tail. This is conceived to improve airflow over the rudder and maximize its efficiency. The red dots are on the tail fin are actually small tubes blasting jets of air over the rudder.

Based on wind-tunnel testing, this novel control could lead to smaller vertical tail designs by up to 20 percent in future aircraft, reducing weight and improving fuel efficiency. They even went as far as shutting down the engines to test rudder and active controls to make certain stability is concerned.

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Can airliners be powered by solar energy? The idea of energy harvesting isn’t as far-fetched as one might think. Two solar and two thermal panels placed on the aircraft’s windows are proving this to be a possibility. The initial idea is that these could power the electroluminescent window shades found in the 787, eliminating the need for electricity and complex wiring. The concept could be expanded to include powering the IFE screens or USB power, for example.

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Boeing is very dialed into the idea of sustainability and recycling. The throttle and flight management system is the recipient of another unique piece of recycling and repurposing.  Excess carbon fiber from the 787 program was recycled into a lightweight carbon fiber flight deck stand. This avant-garde weight saving installation was actually manufactured by a 3D printer. Once its work is done sometime in July, this ecoDemonstrator will be flown to the desert for the final chapter of its work: disassembly.

While the 757 is no longer in production, this end-of-life aircraft was selected as part of a way for Boeing to eventually find a way to strategically recycle materials that have greater residual value, like the 757’s high-value 2024 aluminum showing up on another plane as the footprint of recyclable aluminum has a more ecological footprint than new aluminum.

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With the exception of Boeing proprietary technology, the knowledge gained from ecoDemonstrator research will be publicly available to benefit the industry. “Having a relevant test bed, like Boeing’s ecoDemonstrator, to help mature technology concepts is extremely important to NASA’s Environmentally Responsible Aviation (ERA) Project,” said Fay Collier, ERA project manager, NASA. “Our researchers have been working hard to develop technologies to reduce airplane fuel consumption, noise and emissions. Being able to prove those concepts in flight tests gives them a better shot of getting into the commercial fleet.”

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About Author

Chris Sloan

Chris Sloan

Aviation Journalist, TV Producer, Pursuer of First & Last Flights, Proud Miamian, Intrepid Traveler, and Did I Mention Av-Geek? I've Been Sniffing Jet Fuel Since I was 5, and running the predecessor to airwaysmag.com, Airchive, Since 2003. Now, I Sit in the Right Seat as Co-Pilot of Airways Magazine and airwaysmag.com. My favorite Airlines are National and Braniff, and My favorite Airport is Miami, L-1011 Tristar Lover. My Mantra is Lifted From Delta's Ad Campaign from the 1980s "I Love To Fly And It Shows." chris@airwaysmag.com / @airchive

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