Some odds and ends after three weeks on the road.
July 18, 2023, © Leeham News: When NASA gives up on a project, it’s time for others to take notice.
The agency is best known for space travel. But it funds and undertakes research and development for aeronautics, including commercial aviation. NASA, after all, is the acronym for National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Boeing, and Airbus, benefitted from NASA research in the past. NASA currently is working with Boeing on the transonic truss brace wing concept (TTBW) that could redefine how airplanes are designed and look as early as the end of this decade.
So, what has NASA abandoned? Late last month, the agency pulled the plug on the X-57 electric airplane before the first flight. NASA concluded that the electric and battery technology for the X-57, a small airplane, is too dangerous. NASA wouldn’t even authorize test flights.
It’s worth noting that LNA’s Bjorn Fehrm, an aerospace engineer, called bullshit on electric airplanes in his first of a series of articles way back on June 30, 2017. Billions of dollars have funded some 200 companies pursuing electric airplanes. This is money that could have been invested in expanding production of Sustainable Aviation Fuel, the leading alternative of alternative energy projects.
The current, continued frenzy over alternative energy vehicles is like the 1990s dot com frenzy. And just as the dot com boom went bust, the day is coming soon when the alternative energy book will go bust, too.
Historically, when NASA cooperates with a company, the technology is owned by NASA and available to any company that wants it.
But the relationship between Boeing and NASA for the TTBW is different. Way back in May we were told that in this case, Boeing will retain the Intellectual Property rights to the TTBW. The NASA contract, for $425m, was a way to dodge the old government subsidy allegations that became part of the 17-year complaints filed with the World Trade Organization by the European Union against Boeing. Previous NASA relationships were cited among the complaints filed by the EU.
The case was filed in response to the complaint filed by the US government over illegal subsidies for Airbus. The WTO found both sides violated WTO rules. The US came out on top, so to speak. The WTO authorized higher “fines” for the US to impose on Europe was authorized to impose on the US. When Joe Biden became president, the US and EU agreed to suspend the tariffs in favor of deciding what to do about Chinese government subsidies for its commercial aviation industry.
During one of the many pre-Paris Air Show press briefings I attended, confirmation came that the NASA deal with Boeing allows Boeing to retain the IP for the TTBW.
The TTBW is a prime target for the new CFM RISE Open Fan engine. CFM targets 2035 as its entry-into-service date. This happens to coincide with the “mid-next decade” target Boeing CEO David Calhoun identified for introducing a new airplane.
However, although GE (one of CFM’s partners) is convinced it’s solved all the technical problems for the RISE engine and that it will be a step-change in reducing fuel burn and emissions, plenty of skeptics remain.
During GE’s pre-Paris Air Show media briefing, and during a CEO roundtable at the show, GE was asked what’s Plan B if for whatever reason the Open Fan concept doesn’t go forward. Officials ducked the question directly, maintaining the solution is the RISE. But LNA is convinced there is a Plan B, that involves the Clean Sky work that CFM partner SAFRAN has done around geared turbofan engines.
LNA also learned that Boeing also has a Plan B (and a Plan C). The TTBW could initially emerge with conventional engines and be retrofitted later with the Open Fan design. Conceivably, this could allow Boeing to advance the introduction of the TTBW a few years earlier than publicly discussed.
At a Boeing-sponsored event before the air show, I asked Chris Raymond, Boeing’s top environmental guru, if putting a conventional engine on the TTBW will be enough to bring about step-change economic and emissions improvements, even if short of the Open Fan goal. Raymond said he thought it was possible.
At the GE pre-Paris briefing, I posed the same question to Arjan Hegeman, GM of the Advanced Technology group. He, too, said it was possible.
In both instances, the questions were posed on the sidelines of the event (I don’t like letting my peers hear me ask questions like these.)
The TTBW will be the replacement for the Boeing 737.