A Jetliner For A Fuel-Starved Future

Slimming down the classic passenger jet

The Double Bubble

NASA

An MIT team has turned a multi- million-dollar NASA contract into the most advanced rethink to date of the classic passenger jet. The design, nicknamed the Double Bubble, calls for an extra-wide fuselage and rear-mounted turbo­fan engines. The configuration would allow the craft to burn 70 percent less fuel than a Boeing 737 while producing significantly less noise and nitrogen oxide, a pollutant that causes acid rain.

So when can we board? NASA says it would like to see the 180-seat craft airborne by 2035, when air traffic is projected to double. Engineers will push toward that goal this summer, when they subject a scale model to a second round of wind-tunnel tests at Langley Research Center. Here’s a look at some of the fuel-saving features they will scrutinize.

Comparison with a Boeing 737

Illustration by Don Foley

Photographic evidence

A model of the Double Bubble aced its first wind-tunnel tests at NASA's Langley Research Center last spring.NASA

3-D print your very own Double Bubble Airplane

You can download the design files for this 3-D model in .LWO, .OBJ, and .STL, file formats. For full instructions on printing and assembling this model, see artist Don Foley's guide.

This article originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of Popular Science_._