It looks like a super-sonic stingray in the sky -- and now there's government money behind it.
A "Supersonic Bi-Directional Flying Wing" concept developed by a team at the University of Miami has been awarded a $100,000 development grant from NASA’s prestigious Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program. The plane, first suggested by aerospace engineering professor Gecheng Zha, is designed to fly sideways.
Yes, sideways. While most passenger jets need a large wingspan to generate enough lift to become airborne -- making them too bulky or inefficient to reach supersonic speeds -- the SBiDir-FW solves this problem by generating lift everywhere thanks to symmetric longitudinal and span axes. The wing would take off using its wide span, then rotate 90 degrees in flight for supersonic travel, all while (theoretically) producing zero sonic boom.
“No matter how fast a supersonic plane can fly, it needs to take off and land at very low speed, which severely hurts the high-speed supersonic performance for a conventional airplane,” said Zha. “The SBiDir-FW removes this performance conflict by rotating... [enabling] the SBiDir-FW to achieve superior performance at both supersonic and subsonic speeds.”
Should we reach for a barf bag or ask where we can purchase a ticket? Space.com says g-force produced by the five-second rotation would be even more mild than what airline passengers experience during takeoff.
Zha says his plane would also feature low fuel consumption for commercial use. If initial concept testing is successful, the team will receive an additional $500,000 to further development.
“I am hoping to develop an environmentally friendly and economically viable airplane for supersonic civil transport in the next 20 to 30 years,” he said in a statement. “Imagine flying from New York to Tokyo in four hours instead of 15 hours.”
Perhaps best of all, the concept plane bears Miami's familiar orange and green "U" logo. Here's counting that as a win over Florida State.