One particularly eye-catching design for a fuel-efficient supersonic jet has captured the interest of NASA, which awarded the group behind the airplane a $100,000 grant to further explore its potential.
The design features a bi-directional flying wing with a shape that resembles a ninja star. The craft, thought up by engineers at the University of Miami and Florida State University, is symmetric about both longitudinal and span axes and would adjust to different speed modes in flight by rotating 90 degrees, according to the proposal.
Developers say the rotating design would allow it to overcome a key problem posed by supersonic passenger aircraft – the need to combine supersonic flight with the ability to land and takeoff at more manageable speeds without compromising performance.
Engineers behind the project say the aircraft would reduce supersonic wave drag and essentially eliminate sonic boom, thanks to a smooth ground over pressure signature.
University of Miami aerospace engineering professor Ge-Chen Zha, who is leading the project, referred to the design as “audacious thinking” in a recent university news piece, and says he hopes to create a new practical supersonic passenger-carrying airplane within the next 20 to 30 years.
The grant won by Zha and his team was awarded as part of NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program, which seeks to “be an incubator for a multitude of high risk-high payoff ideas that, if successful, will transition for further development.”