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With the recent problems facing Boeing and the lithium-ion batteries as well as the issues found by Japanese officials with foreign
matter on valves controlling fuel flow between tanks resulting in leaks, some are now wondering if America is falling behind in aircraft technology. Indeed, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is a remarkable first-of-its kind jet. Rather than aluminum, the body is composed of a new, lighter, stronger composite carbon-based material. The lithium-ion batteries, despite the problems remain the system of choice for numerous reasons, from the weight to the ability to hold a charge longer. Even the overall design of the aircraft is a vast improvement in aerodynamics. Swept wing structures have been employed for years in jets, but Boeing designed the entire plane to resemble something more like a massive sparrow in flight than something man-made. The design provides unparalleled aerodynamics.
However, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner was rushed into service having received the go-ahead from the FAA on the scantiest of evidence that the aircraft was safe. This has led some, such as David Koenig of the Associated Press, to question whether the FAA is keeping up with rapidly advancing aircraft technology. In his article, he noted that the FAA must in many ways rely on the expertise of manufacturers and in this case, the grounding occurred before serious injuries rather than after. This is a good argument that the current FAA is functioning as it should.
But what about manufacturers such as Boeing? Are they keeping up with the rest of the world when it comes to advanced aircraft technology?
Recent Technological Advances in Aerospace and Aviation
Sharkskin suits have been banned from Olympic swimming competitions because of the unfair advantage this gives the swimmer over
others. The sharkskin design glides through the water, greatly reducing friction. Recently, engineers in Germany have developed a paint coating for aircraft which will do the same and Lufthansa is now putting it on some of their jets to provide further testing. Initial testing indicates a 1% savings in fuel consumption, which certainly sounds small to many, but as any executive understands, this can amount to considerable money back into the bottom line.
UTC Aerospace Systems has recently opened a new composite research facility in England; Airbus is making headway with newer nickel-cadmium battery systems; and Honeywell is now partnering with China Eastern Airlines to create innovative solutions to improve efficiency, performance, and safety in their standing fleet.
So it seems as if the United States is Falling Behind, Not true.
Also in development is a new form of wing structure now under development at Brown University. It is based on the retracting capabilities of the Bat and promises to increase understanding regarding lift and drag. The design is being used in a robotic bat to study these features which appear promising to aircraft designers. Of course, don’t expect jets of the future to lift off like a bat, with erratic movements through the sky spilling drinks and throwing the passengers into whiplash. Rather, the aim of the robotic bat is to gain further insights into ways to improve lift and reduce drag in future aircraft designs.
Lest we forget, the Sharklet design was created by Dr. Anthony Brennan of Colorado.
In fact, all we are seeing is the same of what has occurred in the past. America is neither falling behind nor actually leading the way. U.S. manufacturers have been in competition throughout the 20th and now into the 21st Centuries with European and other manufacturers. This competition is becoming fierce as ways to reduce costs become more pressing and the recent problems with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is just a part of doing business.
Boeing will work out the design flaws, if that is what these are, and the Dreamliner will take its rightful place in the sky once again. The FAA appears to be functioning better than ever and although it must today rely more on the manufacturers than ever before, the relationship appears to be functional and beneficial to aerospace in America overall.