The other day, our think tank was reviewing a number of award-winning ultra-efficient aerospace designs for airliners of the future. These aircraft had won contests sponsored by NASA. After looking at each design, and understanding that they had already been run through wind tunnel tests, and the proper CADCAM software which is specially made for aerodynamics, and then looking at all the numbers we were impressed. What didn’t impress us, and I’m speaking for me personally right now, is that many of these designs are just being replayed from the 1960s.
For instance, there was one design by an aerospace graduate student who has excellent possibilities for upward mobility in designing the aircraft of tomorrow from one of the top-notch aerospace engineering schools had come up with an airliner design with an interesting v-tail configuration. It looked suitable, safe, and fast and sleek. However it looked very familiar to me, and therefore I did some checking. It turns out its not unique at all, and I’m not sure why this aircraft design won a contest, because it’s now over 50 years old.
You see, there was an aircraft named the Heinkel HE 211 which was designed back in the early 60s but it sure looks a lot like some of the latest airliner designs winning awards in the present period. This aircraft had a shallow V-tail (butterfly tail) and two turbo-fan engines with a probable top speed of about 600 mph and perhaps a range of 650 miles. Today, with our more efficient wings and engines, along with more modern light-weight carbon materials, it would be almost identical in design to the current so-called “new ultra-efficient” designs.
What I am saying is this; “Dear Grad Student of Aerospace Engineering, don’t get too cocky with me, I am not impressed with your designs, they aren’t original,” because in this case study, that design is as old as all of your fathers, and it is not an original concept worthy of any aerospace design award my friends. It seems to me that what we should be doing is letting all these future aerospace designers look through old stacks of magazines, and digital renditions of Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, and other magazines produced in the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s.
We should let them know that it is okay to borrow various strategies, but we really need them to use their creative genius to come up with brand-new ideas, because mere incremental gains, or borrowing aerospace designs of the past and calling them our future doesn’t require graduate aerospace engineering students, it only requires someone to look in an old magazine take a digital picture of it and plop it into a CADCAM design software system. I expect more from our next generation of engineers, we’ve already broken the sound barrier. Please consider all this and think on it.