Image copyright AP Image caption Current composite cloud designs make headlines for being dangerous in jet engines. A new technology could cure both.
A new cloud-piercing jet engine that would save millions of lives – in the skies and on the ground – could be flying in just one to two years.
The new jet engine developed by researchers at the State University of New York will eject huge bursts of air and a huge amount of shredded jet fuel as it leaves the plane.
They say it is one of the most challenging prototypes to build – and could even mean that the issue of airborne debris gets resolved for good.
It is already used as a compressed gas device in medicine and also firefighters use it to extinguish blazes.
Now, scientists at the university and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have pieced together a custom-made turbine that uses a souped-up version of NASA’s super-fuel/scaled out engine.
The new version – which will burn a jet fuel called COPD – is certainly capable of holding its own.
It has the range to travel for 17 hours at a distance of 7,500 miles and speed of 1,000mph.
Image copyright AFP Image caption Mountaintop storms – where gusts of winds and big hail stones can come as close as 30 miles – can pose a threat to planes.
For air traffic control engineers, the most interesting aspect of the new prototype is that the chunks of oil used to destroy cloud heads could potentially be used to mitigate the dangers caused by ejecting gas clouds that in recent years have been regarded as the main cause of early cabin decompression moments.
In times of severe thunderstorms – and they’re frequent in North America – the pilot is meant to blow huge plumes of exhaust designed to contain clouds of debris that can damage jet engines.
However, they can also create huge chunks of smoke and heat-melt rubber that can choke engines.
Accelerating fuel and high-pressure air steam in a jet engine disables the automatic hoisting system, and the oxygen supply system it relies on breaks down – meaning safety could be compromised.
And of course, any large particles of fuel can cause cockpit damage.
The New York University School of Engineering wants to make sure that high-speed jet fuels can be released safely from the tailfin where they are manufactured and that any debris can be dumped safely in landfills.
This test flight and launch of the prototype started with the construction of a large, oval shape in which the powder-coated parts could be built to scale.
The tower was then connected to the twin turbofan turbofan engines, which added power. The turbine was attached to a central core. This core can also be cooled in a water or ammonia system, but has not been used yet.
It can also be transported in passenger aircraft and overcome weather obstacles like wind shear.
It also operates in extreme temperatures from 120-134 degrees Fahrenheit and can be readied for flight in a day.
For the MIT researchers, any hope of ever achieving a practical system for reducing the risk of flying by dispersing chunks of wreckage would be put into jeopardy if the engine, which is located in the centre of the tower, were to be damaged by fire.
But with this prototype, a liquid fuel – which is channelled into a canister around the tower – can be used to manufacture “bullet” clouds that could dodge any damage caused by fire or lightning strikes and fly directly in front of planes.
The idea has already been seen in scientific papers, such as Nature Research in August.
“COPD’s safety benefits would not be lost if the engine went out of commission,” the paper, authored by researchers at MIT and in China, concluded.
The approval and build of this new jet engine could lead to a future one being used to power manned aircraft or even the power stations for carrying out renewable energy conversion.
“The air and ground environment all of a sudden became much less hazardous than it otherwise would have been,” remarked Benjamin Tarter of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“We’re now in an era where we’re building flying computers on the ground so they can do things that we couldn’t have predicted a year ago. And then imagine what we’ll do in the future when we have connected flying computers. We’ll have the same type of problems we had in the past with rockets.”
Though this prototype won’t be put into use for another two years, NASA’s Tarter and his team are eager to continue working with the New York team.
And with a future model due to be tested, the benefits could not be bigger.
“It means that we can build smaller and smaller objects that have amazing capabilities,” Tarter added.
This article was presented by BAE Systems, one of the exhibition sponsors of Farnborough