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MenuHomeAviationHumansOriginsScienceWeb LinksSite MapContact DAVID HARDAKER: It's 100 years ago today that the Wright brothers flew their strange and fragile contraption at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina -- a time regarded as the beginning of modern aviation.

The two men would be stunned at today's passenger jets and military fighters, but as remarkable as they are, the basic design of these planes has changed little since the 1940s, and experts say that within the next 30 years, they may no longer be sustainable.

Ben Knight reports.

BEN KNIGHT: The Boeing 747 is still one of the world's great design, and 30 years after it was first produced, it's still being built and sold around the world.

But 30 years is a long time, and Boeing is starting to feel the pinch from its main competitor, the French aircraft builder, Airbus. Its new A380 will be the largest ever built, capable of carrying 550 passengers.

But still, Aviation Consultant Peter Lewis says both companies are sticking with the same basic design.

PETER LEWIS: You know, the traditional aircraft design that you see almost exclusively, using the tube body with wings and short tail assembly of wings and the fin, has been around basically since the days of the DC-3. It's proved very practical and has been commercially successful.

BEN KNIGHT: But the success of that tube and wing design is likely to be its own downfall.

PETER LEWIS: You know, if projected growths in air traffic increase over the next 20, 30 years there are some disadvantages that may be forthcoming, and these ... in areas of high density air traffic, you know, there could be some adverse environmental facts if the current design is used.

BEN KNIGHT: With some estimates putting the increase in air traffic at up to 10 times what it is now, that means massive increases in pollution around major airports, as well as the noise and safety issues from having so many planes in the air.

Peter Lewis says it's a problem the industry is aware of, and aircraft manufacturers are now looking at different designs, including the so-called flying wing. This is not a new design, in fact, it was first developed in the 1920s, and it's the basis of the US Military's current B2 stealth bomber.
It's a design that would enable aircraft to carry many more passengers, and also has safety advantages over the tube and wing because of its stability in the air. It's also much more friendly to the environment.

But Peter Lewis says any such move away from the current design would be a massively expensive operation.

PETER LEWIS: It would probably require modification to every airport in the world before it could operate, and that obviously would only follow many years of expensive research and development.

BEN KNIGHT: Is that likely to happen?

PETER LEWIS: Anything's likely to happen. There's a number of very well renowned experts that are looking at this and quite a number of theories, but obviously it's like everything else, you know, somebody will have to take the lead.

DAVID HARDAKER: Aviation Consultant Peter Lewis ending that report from Ben Knight.

December 17, 2003


ABC Online

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2004 ABC - Australian Broadcasting Corporation

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