Green Guilt-Free Flying

Greg Galitzine : Green Blog
Greg Galitzine
| Helping environmentally-conscientious business leaders choose environmentally-friendly solutions.

Green Guilt-Free Flying

It will be possible, depending on how quickly and urgently the aviation industry acts to develop and roll out the technology, to fly and work on your laptop without worrying about the emissions-related harm being incurred and the life-enabling open space ruined by massive runways. 

The key environmental issue with flying is not so much the CO2 from the engines but from the water vapor emitted at higher altitudes, where jet aircraft operate, which turns into clouds.  Canadian journalist and historian Gwynne Dyer reports that these clouds reflect heat back to the surface "and contribute to global warming".

There is a solution, which he discussed in a recent column carried in a rural Ontario paper ,distributed free in communities located below what are arguably Canada's busiest commercial and military airways, and that is known as 'circulation control'

This is a technology whose function is, he quoted Dennis Bushnell, the chief scientist at NASA's Langley Research Center, "'to bleed the engines and inject air backwards at the upper trailing edge of the wing, you can produce lift coefficients which are easily three or four times what we can get out of conventional wings.'"

With circulation control, aircraft can fly more comfortably and with less harm at lower altitudes, reports Dyer. Water vapor turns to rain and bumps i.e. turbulence is minimized.  

"That [also] means very short takeoffs and landings, so short that existing runways could accommodate several aircraft at once. And the same circulation control system, used in flight, has "such tremendous control authority" that it can counter the bumps that are normally part of flying down in the weather and produce a smooth ride."

Circulation control or circulation control wings according to Wikipedia can for the archetypical Boeing 737 airliner cut approach speeds by 35 percent to 45 percent and landing distances by 55 percent to 75 percent, adding that such advances in wing design "could allow for dramatic wing size reduction in large, wide body jets." It can also significantly reduce noise pollution, making aircraft and airports nicer neighbors.

The technology still needs to be perfected. "The main problem with the circulation control wing is the need for high energy air to be blown over the wing's surface," explains the Wikipedia entry. "Such air is often taken from the engine however this drastically reduces engine power production and consequently defies the purpose of the wing. Other options are taking the exhaust gases (which must first be cooled) or using multiple, lightweight gas generators, which are separate from the main aircraft engines."

Aircraft design and technology have taken amazing leaps in performance. Isn't it time for engineers, manufacturers, and airliner customers to aim for the sky in reducing emissions?

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