Friday, September 30, 2005

Saving Fuel in Formation

It's strange but true that a friend of mine at NASA actually worked on the research described in this article:

Migrating birds, including geese, pelicans and gulls, have long demonstrated the art of efficient flight by positioning themselves in a "V" formation. This allows each trailing bird within in the V to coast in the wake of the bird just ahead.

If birds can do it, researchers have asked, then why not planes?

Schkolnik estimates that V-formation flying can save up to 12 percent in fuel costs. Those savings could jump as high as 20 percent if airplanes are designed specifically for formation flying.

"If you can find where that upward wind is and put your airplane in it, you are essentially riding a wave," Dick Ewers, a retired Marine Corps pilot, explained in a 2001 NASA press release on the developing technology.

...a team of engineers at Dryden, the University of California at Los Angeles, Boeing, NASA Ames and NASA Langley began developing technology in the late 1990s that would allow pilots to safely lock into the draft of a plane in front of them and hitch a virtually fuel-free ride.

I remember my pal Bruce describing this to me several years ago and thinking at the time that while this would probably work with cargo airplanes, passengers would never accept it.

Well, they may have to, if they want to keep flying.


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