Photo credit: Courtesy of Otto Aviation
by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition
This article from CNN covers one of the odder looking innovations in aircraft design, the Celera by the California-based company Otto Aviation. It looks more like a gas-filled dirigible than a fixed-wing aircraft. But what it really demonstrates is how much room there is for improvements in aircraft design. Otto Aviation has focused on reducing power requirements–which also reduces noise levels–by optimizing “laminar flow.”
Their Celera 500L bullet plane results in a much lighter aircraft with much higher fuel efficiency and a much smaller engine. Marvelous! Doubtless, they’ve also taken great care to reduce the plane’s weight by using innovative materials.
The author of the CNN piece calls 2020 “the strangest year in aviation history” because of all the turmoil. Namely, Boeing’s grounded and deadly 737MAX, the COVID-19 pandemic, the emergence of commercially-available, electrically-powered aircraft, and the growing concern about the astonishing impact of air travel on the environment. And certainly some of the emerging aircraft we’re seeing are strange looking indeed. But as economist Paul Romer said, “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” So maybe we’ll look back on this period as one of remarkable innovation that is hopefully leading to a quieter and more environmentally-sustainable future.
But please note that these innovative designs are coming not from Boeing and it’s engine-partner GE. Both of those behemoths are looking a lot like dying dinosaurs right now. The innovations are coming from well-funded startups, Celera being one of a few in the U.S. Most of the innovators appear to be in the EU, where both environmental and noise issues are taken seriously and where industry leaders like Airbus and Siemens are solidly behind the next wave of innovation.
David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.