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A glimpse at the future of aviation

A glimpse at the future of aviation

We take a look at the future of aviation, ranging from new ways for planes to connect online to foams that make aircraft invisible.

The future of aviation technology is varied and ever expanding, with advances in fields ranging from unmanned aircraft and speed increases to green-friendly initiatives. While aircraft in the near-future will continue to look similar on the surface, under the hood they will utilize groundbreaking technology that results in a quieter and more comfortable experience. And if the past is any indication, the advancements in aeronautics will have an impact on all technology.

Additionally, increased fuel efficiency in flight is becoming a reality, with sustainable aviation fuels potentially providing up to one-third of all commercial jet fuel by 2030. The unbelievable aircraft technology of the future continues to steadily roll out, impacting everyone from regular passengers to aircraft personnel to military aviation professionals and everything in between.

Commercial and Military Aircraft

Both the military and commercial aviation industries will be huge beneficiaries of incoming technology, sharing in efficiency-related advancements, such as sustainable fuel and the Internet of Things (IoT) implementation, making planes more efficient and connected than ever before. The differences between the two sides primarily relate to their respective goals, with commercial focused on getting passengers from point A to point B (while achieving the highest return on investment possible), and military aircraft often having more elaborate uses.

A glimpse at the future of aviationOne area of development that’s of great interest to the military aviation industry is 3D printing. BAE Systems recently unveiled aircraft that can potentially 3D print while in midair — a technology that could change the nature of flight by printing replacement parts on-demand, or carrying out repairs using on-board drones. In theory, a plane could then stay in the air almost indefinitely, barring refueling and crew changes. Unsurprisingly, the ability for an aircraft to replenish parts in the midst of battle or a journey is a point of interest for the military, with commercial aircraft focusing more on increased efficiency and comfort.

Shielding is another point of interest for military aircraft, especially during stealth operations where shielding foam can absorb radio waves, sound waves, microwaves and radar. Advances in this technology, as well as further implementation of it, are imminent as military aircraft continue to prioritize on-board repairs, stealth, and overall efficiency. Advancements in structural foams could also lead to more protection at lighter weights than currently available.

Imagine a lightweight, durable aircraft that is also completely invisible to technology and you can see why the military would be interested in this. Throw in the ability to repair itself, and you may be looking at the future of military aircraft.

Meanwhile, the technological innovations in commercial aircraft will be felt more keenly in fuel efficiency, Internet of Things incorporation, and increased comfort.

The Internet of Things, Incorporated

On-demand touchscreens and Wi-Fi are just a few perks of the Internet of Things (IoT) advancements, which continues to play a big role in aviation. Panasonic, the leading provider of In-Flight Entertainment and Connectivity (IFEC) systems, plans to outfit 12,000 more IFEC systems over the next decade. In time, nearly all commercial flights will offer several connectivity options.

A glimpse at the future of aviationThe prevalence of IFEC will coincide with significant capacity increases, resulting in more on-demand content and features like four-dimensional weather forecasting. The IntuVue RDR4000 3D weather radar alone projects to save airlines up to $65,000 per aircraft per year, and it is just one example. Adding as little as two minutes to a flight due to bad weather conditions can use as much as 100 gallons of fuel per aircraft. Turbulence costs are around $100 million each year for a major airline, so more accurate and on-demand weather forecasting is an area of improvement that can cut costs.

In addition to more accurate forecasting to minimize the impact of turbulence, aviation technology from companies like Aviaso (GoDirect Flight Efficiency) are creating IoT software that monitors aircraft usage data and works to save fuel. In short, IoT tools help passengers have a more comfortable flight with more entertainment options and less turbulence, while flight staff can have a better grasp of fuel requirements and overall aircraft health.

The Coming of Unmanned Aircraft

Pilotless aircraft – not to be confused with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), aka drones – will see first heavy usage in the military aviation sector first, with the potential for unmanned commercial aircraft coming after that. The public will likely be more amenable to the latter once self-driving cars are more widespread and the technology’s reliability is proven. The US government already has over 7,000 drones in its inventory, so it should come as a surprise that there is strong interest in the prospect of using automated aircraft for military purposes.

A glimpse at the future of aviationThe path to unmanned commercial aircraft is clear, since the average cockpit has already been reduced from five personnel to just two over the past several decades. Meanwhile, the government trains twice as many ground operators as pilots for fighter jets, suggesting they’re well aware of the impending shift in the future of aviation. Once the military tests and proves the technology, the commercial sector will likely follow.

The writing is on the wall for unmanned aircraft to arrive.

President and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airlines, James Albaugh, says that a pilotless airline “is going to come; it’s just a question of when. You’ll see it in freighters first, over water probably, landing very close to the shore.”

The future of aviation

While the focus of aeronautics is arguably focused on space and the new space race that is underway, terrestrial aircraft are constantly advancing in new and interesting ways. Many of those advancements may be gradual to unroll, at least from the public’s point of view, but they will be significant. Commercial aircraft today look much like the aircraft of 20, even 30 years ago, but they are significantly more advanced.

In both military and commercial aviation, the future of technology is fascinating, and will have huge implications for several other fields as well.

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Megan Ray Nichols is a freelance science writer and the editor of Schooled By Science. She enjoys keeping up with the latest scientific discoveries and innovations in technology. When she isn’t writing, Megan spends time with family and friends.