Since the heyday of Burt Rutan, we’ve grown somewhat accustomed to weird plane shapes. This one, dubbed the Flying-V (nicely descriptive, but not very creative in our estimation), is being promoted by Dutch airline KLM and manufacturer Airbus, and is pushing itself down the aisle and way past our comfort zone.
The concept plane—dream on if you thought such a thing could be flying already—was developed a few years ago…by a college student (!) interning at Airbus. Nonetheless, KLM at some point decided to run with it. The landed on Airbus’ desk and by all outward appearances, the plane maker was intrigued.
Now the most obvious feature of this plane, composed of one oddity after the other, is that the passengers are seating in the leading edge of the wing. Because the wing is so wildly swept, the passengers’ view is mostly sideways, just as it is in, well, every other airliner in the world, but there is an angle to it, too. Then there are practical questions that we need to assume get answered at some point, such as, where does the fuel go? (In the wings.) What about the bags? (Again, in the wings.) Everything is in the wings. It’s nothing but wings and engines.
There are questions of aerodynamics, too. Will the flying wishbone (see!) be able to move through the air in a stable and predictable fashion? Then there’s a big question that anyone undertaking a project of this scope would have to ask: Will anybody want to fly on this thing? It will be focus-grouped, no doubt. But we have our doubts on this point. The Flying-V is kind of freaky even for window passengers, and it might be even weirder those folks who are three or five or, heaven forbid, eight seats in. And flying at an angle seems peculiar, too. Shouldn’t passengers be facing forward and not off at a 45-degree angle?
The advantages? KLM is suggesting a 20% savings in fuel, which would be remarkable. They also say the plane could use existing airports and gates, so that’s good. The young man who dreamt it all up, Justus Benad, says there’s still aerodynamic modeling to be done to determine such exotic things as will it be able to take off and land at regular airports.
As far as why KLM would be promoting such a wild idea, well, it’s not unheard of. A year ago, Boeing announced its Mach 5 airliner, which looks like a lawn dart—a really fast and cool lawn dart. Look out, kids. And back in 2012, Lockheed Martin floated an airplane with a wing that wrapped around and joined itself above the fuselage, forming a lovely oval shape. The company quoted a 2025 target date for the project, about which we have not heard an update lately.
If one didn’t know better, one might think that airlines and airliner makers put this stuff out there to drum up free publicity. As if that would ever work.
Anyway, on the subject of airlines, like KLM, taking the lead in the design of a plane—well, it turns out that’s old hat, too. Pan Am worked with Boeing in the design process of the Boeing 747 and with Aerospatiale/BOC with the Concorde, though ultimately never bought a supersonic airliner. Lufthansa had a hand in the design of the Boeing 737, and the list could go on. And that doesn’t even cover planes developed based on military programs, like the 747, for instance.
Other futuristic planes that will likely never fly include a windowless model championed by Emirates and a plane with standup seating being foisted on the world by British budget airline Ryanair.
But don’t laugh too quickly. Sometimes weird planes do get built. When we first saw artist concepts of the gargantuan Airbus A380, we thought, “Yeah, right. That thing will never fly.” Well, fly it did. Airbus has cancelled the program, but not before building nearly 250 of the giants.
This will never happen with the KLM/Airbus concept, though. We’ll believe this one only when we see its V-shape fly. But between us, we’d love to see it happen. Hey, even skeptics can dream.
Airbus plans to show off a scale model of the V along with a seating mockup this fall.
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