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Lockheed Stratoliner: Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It’s both… and pollution free too

Description: Lockheed Stratoliner: Is it a bird? Is it a plane? It’s both... and pollution free too

Photo: William Brown/courtesy of Tuvie

A British designer has shared a concept for a hydrogen-powered commercial jet that can fly any distance non-stop, after taking inspiration from a bird that makes the longest non-stop migratory flight in the world.

Description: The Lockheed Stratoliner concept aircraft and its bird-like design is based on the bar-tailed Godwit

The concept plane’s wings are inspired by the Bar-tailed Godwit – birds known to fly the longest routes without feeding or drinking.

The Lockheed Stratoliner concept aircraft and its bird-like design is based on the Bar-tailed Godwit: a long-billed wading bird that makes the 11,500km (7,145 mile) journey from its breeding ground in Alaska to New Zealand without the need to feed or drink.

Designer, William Brown says the Stratoliner’s oversized wings would generate large amounts of lift and allow the plane to fly at higher altitudes. It would be powered by four Cryogenic Hydrogen Turbofan engines, which would produce no pollution and use less fuel.

Brown’s work was unveiled on ‘Tuvie’ – a website that encourages users to submit a futuristic design or concept for publication.

Description: Lockhead stratosphere bird plane

Lockheed Stratoliner fact box: Click image to enlarge

The beaked concept plane may be impractical but it pushes the envelope of what passenger air travel could be like in future and how planes might be powered, as the airline industry continues to develop greener alternatives to fossil fuels.

In reality, research so far has shown that hydrogen – once seen as a potential super fuel for powering tomorrow’s passenger jets – has not proven itself to be any greener than other energy sources. Scientists also point to the high energy costs to produce the highly flammable fuel.


Photo: William Brown/courtesy of Tuvie

Hydrogen-powered planes

In 2000, Airbus was involved in a European Union funded Cryoplane Project to assess the feasibility of hydrogen, in a bid to develop a zero carbon-emissions aircraft of the future.

Researchers found that planes would require fuel tanks four times larger than today’s to run the fuel, which would increase energy consumption by up to 14 percent and operating costs by 4 to 5 percent. Experts say other challenges include the ability to produce hydrogen in large enough volumes to fuel the airline industry and in an environmentally friendly way.

The airline industry has changed its focus to developing a sustainable supply chain for aviation biofuels and continues to press ahead with tests for fuels powered by algae, jatropha and camelina crops individually or blended with regular jet fuel (kerosene).

In June, KLM launched the world’s first scheduled biofueled flight, which flew 171 passengers between Amsterdam and Paris using kerosene mixed with recycled cooking oil.

While Boeing continues to research the potential of liquid hydrogen for unmanned aircraft. The plane maker expects to fly its Phantom Eye unmanned aircraft – which will be fully fuelled with liquid hydrogen – by early November. The flight is expected to demonstrate the aircraft’s capability of flying at 65,000 feet for four days without refuelling.

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