• Under Professor Mark Drela's supervision, Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics students Nina Siu and Michael Lieu prepare a model of the D-8 aircraft for testing in MIT's Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel.

    Photo: William Litant

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  • The cover of the November issue of Popular Mechanics, featuring an artist's rendering of the MIT-led team's plane in the center.

    Image courtesy of Popular Mechanics

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MIT-led team’s eco-aircraft receives Popular Mechanics Breakthrough Innovator Award

Unique plane offers significant reduction in emissions, noise and fuel use.

Popular Mechanics magazine has awarded a 2010 Breakthrough Innovator Award to an MIT-led team for designing an aircraft that could use 70 percent less fuel than current planes while reducing noise and emissions.

Unlike conventional “tube and wing” aircraft, the MIT design blends two tubular sections side by side in a common hull, offering a short, but wide configuration that contributes to the plane’s lift. Drag is reduced in the 737-sized plane though the use of long, skinny wings — unswept for additional lift — and a smaller “pi-shaped” tail.

Three engines are located on the upper rear of the fuselage, which will allow them to ingest slower moving (boundary layer) air, using less fuel than under-wing engines. The plane’s body and tail will shield the engines, reducing noise.

In announcing the awards, Popular Mechanics editor-in-chief James B. Meigs said, “Our diverse, inspired winners are making the seemingly impossible a reality. (The) honorees are the people and products leading the way into the future, and we’re thrilled to recognize their advances.”

The MIT team, which included Aurora Flight Sciences and Pratt & Whitney, developed the design as part of a $2.1 million NASA research contract to research future aircraft environmental and performance concepts. A model of the aircraft has been constructed and is undergoing tests in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics's Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel.

AeroAstro professors Edward Greitzer and Mark Drela will represent the design team at the Breakthough Awards ceremony in New York on Oct. 5. Popular Mechanics’s November issue will feature an artist’s concept of the aircraft on the cover.

Topics: Aeronautical and astronautical engineering, Aviation, Awards, honors and fellowships, Energy, Environment, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E), NASA, Transportation


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