Mobility aircraft deserve a salute because without them, armed forces around the world would be without vital assets needed to support the many roles they play in different situations. Today’s airlifters face a future that demands more cost-effective fuel options on top of an intensifying need for added capabilities including increased speed, range, enhanced survivability, austere fielding, and increased multi-role functionality.
We’re applying our mobility research to two main areas: near-term improvements to the existing air mobility fleets and revolutionary advancements for a future fleet. In partnership with our U.S. Air Force customer, we’ve identified a number of fuel saving technologies for present-day planes. These include winglets on the C-5 and C-130 to improve aerodynamic efficiency, drag reducing microvanes on the C-130 aft-body, formation flight technologies, and a cost-index flying analysis of the current fleet to optimize the flight speeds and altitudes. We’re also working closely with aircraft engine manufacturers by using their latest technologies and most fuel efficient engines while helping them refine their designs based on our aircraft needs.
This research has helped draw a picture of what future transport aircraft may look like and how they may operate. While we are studying several different configuration concepts, we’ve found that all share a number of commonalities, five commonalities to be precise:
- They all have swept, high-aspect ratio wings for aerodynamic efficiency and speed.
- Future transport aircraft retain an upswept aft fuselage and low cargo floor to facilitate cargo loading via a ramp and doors similar to today’s airlifters.
- They have some form of a tail surfaces to ensure that the aircraft is controllable during airdrop mission.
- They incorporate advanced composite and metallic materials, and manufacturing technologies to lighten the structure.
- They incorporate incredibly efficient engines.