For nearly two decades, the U.S. and Europe futilely sparred over the role of government funds in commercial aerospace. Boeing alleged launch funding for Airbus jetliners distorted the market, Airbus claimed NASA and Department of Defense funding and state-level tax policy made possible advances in technology and industrial capability that otherwise wouldn’t be commercially possible.
In March 2021, after effectively resolving nothing (except their retaliatory tariffs), the transatlantic duo formally moved to end the spat. What has followed has been an unapologetic influx of government funding into aerospace technology research. The economic necessity of global air travel has melded fully with the imperative for environmental sustainability. The European Commission has earmarked billions of euros for research by Airbus and the supply base, while the Canadian federal and provincial governments have allocated funds for De Havilland and hybrid-electric propulsion and other projects.
In May 2021, the Biden Administration shifted gears, readying its budget to prepare for NASA’s Sustainable Flight National Partnership (SFNP), a public-private partnership to incubate the technologies for the next generation single aisle – and the centerpiece of the SFNP is the Sustainable Flight Demonstrator (SFD). The full-scale crewed commercial aircraft technology pathfinder was formally awarded to Boeing on January 18.
The SFD, which Boeing intends to fly in 2028, will be the company’s first commercial demonstrator since 1954, when it flew its vision for the future of high-altitude, high-speed civilian air travel made possible by jet propulsion – the Model 367-80. The forerunner to both the KC-135 and 707, which set the company on a path to U.S. jetliner dominance through the end of the century, the Dash 80 now sits immortalized at the Smithsonian Institution.
Boeing, NASA and its industry team will heavily modify (and shorten) a 153-foot long McDonnell Douglas MD-90 to include an ultra-slender carbon fiber composite wing mounted atop the fuselage and supported with a pair of aerodynamically advanced lift-generating trusses. This Transonic Truss-Braced Wing (TTBW) configuration has the potential to reduce fuel consumption by as much as 9% on its own and up to 30% compared to the 737 Max when paired with new propulsion and system architectures.
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