Story by Francesca Street and Miquel Ros, illustrations by Dale Crosby Close, CNN
3 minute read
6:43 AM EDT, Wed March 27, 2019
The future of passenger planes: Today,commercial aircraft remain structurally similar to those of the 1960s. But with new designs such as Emirates' first class suites with virtual "windows," what might planes look like 50 years from now?
Boeing 737: While there have been vast improvements in materials, engines and avionics, plane design hasn't changed much. In fact, the Boeing 737, one of the best-selling airliners ever in its many successive versions, flew for the first time in 1967.
Robert Alexander/Archive Photos/Getty Images
Supersonic travel: There have been some attempts to change the aircraft design paradigm. The 1970s promised a future of supersonic travel that never really took hold, besides the limited experiences of the Concorde (pictured) and its Soviet equivalent, the Tu-144.
Tim Matsui/Getty Images
Tu-144: The Tupolev Tu-144 might not be as famous as the Concorde, but it beat it to the skies twice: Its maiden flight was in December 1968 and it achieved its first supersonic flight in June 1969.
Northrop B-2 bomber: The idea of a blended wing airliner, resembling the stealth Northrop B-2 bomber, has sometimes been touted, without much success so far.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
NASA's X-57 prototype: Smaller electric motors will enable distributed propulsion like the one found in NASA's X-57 prototype and lower noise levels and operational costs will make it possible for electrical-powered aircraft to fly much closer to where people live and work.
Zunum: Zunum's hybrid-electric aircraft promises something akin to door-to-door air travel, flying quietly and economically to thousands of underused local airfields and bypassing more inefficent and often congested larger airports.
Eviation: Eviation Aircraft also focuses on the short-range regional market. This Israeli startup has come up with a sleek nine-passenger, self-piloted, all-electric aircraft to operate primarily in the 100 to 600 mile range (although the aircraft will have a longer maximum range).
Courtesy Eviation Aircraft
Leonardo AW609: Italian manufacturer Leonardo is readying the commercial launch of the revolutionary AW609 tilt-rotor helicopter, which combines elements of both helicopter and airplane design.
Courtesy Leonardo Helicopters
CityAirbus: A futuristic concept that Airbus is working on is CityAirbus, with a maiden flight scheduled for 2018. Just like Vahana, it's self-piloted and will be able to take off and land vertically, making it ideally suited for urban use.
Boeing Dreamliner: Boeing's Dreamliner features larger-than-average windows. "Having some point of communication with the outside improves the passenger experience," says ACLA Studio's Victor Carlioz.
Kyoto Airship: Embraer's Kyoto Airship also embraces the large-windowed trend.
Boom Supersonic:Boom Supersonic, a startup that has Silicon Valley incubator Y Combinator and Japan Airlines among its investors, is developing a commercial aircraft that will be expected to fly at speeds of Mach 2.2 -- with lower costs than the Concorde.