top of page

The Only Way Is Up

By Anna Griffin, Editor in Chief



The question of aviation and its role in climate change, as well as its future in regard to sustainable initiatives to lessen fuel use and emissions, is an ongoing conversation. Aviation contributes approximately 2.5% of total global emissions, which looks possible to grow at an average of 4.3% per year over the next 20 years. Industry analysts predict 10,000 additional airliners by 2032 and 200,000 daily flights by the mid 2030's, tripling aviation emissions by 2050. Test flights using ethanol and used cooking oil have proven successful, but at what environmental cost? This Kerosene substitute has been termed sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) by the airline industry and is approximately 0.1% of fuel burned by airliners. At least 30 airlines are pledging to use it by 2030, and the Biden administration wants to increase US production of the fuel 200-fold within that time frame. However, as a refined blend of waste oils, animal fats, and ethanol from corn, SAF is a hydrocarbon in the same regard as jet fuel, emitting the same amount of CO2 when burned. Factor in methane emissions from landstock, unsustainable land use due to the amount of crops needed to produce enough oil to support the airline industry, and the costs associated with its production, and SAF seems an unreliable choice to bank on moving forward.


Photo Credit: JetZero


Enter the Pathfinder from JetZero, a futuristic jet with a blended wing body modeled after the US Air Force’s B-2 Stealth Bomber. The aircraft, which seats 250, is expected to have a range of 5,754 miles compared to traditional airplanes that typically fly up to 4,000 miles. Able to reach higher altitudes using less fuel, the Pathfinder has been designed with longer wings than commercial airlines and no tail, which makes the aircraft lighter while reducing the amount of drag produced. “If you think about a 'tube and wing,' it separates the loads — you have the pressurization load on the tube, and the bending loads on the wings," Tom O'Leary, co-founder and CEO of JetZero, told CNN last year. “But a blended wing essentially blends those together. Only now can we do that with composite materials that are both light and strong.”


Photo Credit: JetZero


Instead of bolted metal, the BWB uses stitched carbon fiber - a lighter material stitched together to build the wings. The material is less expensive than the metal alternative, making BWBs cheaper to build and maintain. "We call this the SpaceX of aviation,” Tony Fadell, a JetZero investor and strategic advisor, told Fast Company.


Photo Credit: JetZero


Perfecting the Pathfinder prototype for more than three decades before deeming it good enough to submit for FAA approval, JetZero were recently given the green light to test flights using their reduced-size prototype, announcing on LinkedIn, “We're happy to report that Pathfinder, our 23-ft.-wingspan, 12.5%-scale version of our full size demonstrator, now possesses an FAA Airworthiness Certificate.”


Photo Credit: JetZero


Receiving the FAA certificate approval, JetZero consider the plans safe enough to start building a full-size Pathfinder model and begin test-flying the aircraft. With the Pathfinder’s promised carbon emission reduction of 50%, which exceeds NASA and Airbus' quoted designs that reduced fuel use by 20%, JetZero is set to develop three types of planes: a passenger aircraft that will seat more than 200 people, a cargo plane, and a fuel tanker for military use.


Photo Credit: JetZero


The FAA certificate comes at a crucial time when the effects of climate change are rapidly growing and being witnessed throughout the world. Aviation accounts for 2.5% of global emissions and is projected to increase by 4.3% each year. “I've devoted more than 30 years of my life to refining the blended wing body,” Chief Technology Officer, Mark Page, told Fast Company. “Now we're entering an era that demands emissions reduction on a major scale. When we see the first BWB airliner takeoff, this whole team will feel it's really made a difference.”


Photo Credit: JetZero


With the US Air Force adopting the design based on its aeronautical capabilities for its own fleet and making a $235 million investment last year to help JetZero build a commercial-sized Pathfinder by 2027 and in service by 2030, it seems the only way is up for the future of sustainable aviation.



Comments


bottom of page