Carrying Air Mobility into the Future
The very first Lockheed aircraft, a wood and muslin-covered seaplane, was designed to carry passengers. Over the next 100 years, through aircraft such as the Electra, Clipper, Lodestar, Mars, Constellation, Hercules, StarLifter, TriStar, and Galaxy, Lockheed Martin built a long and continuous legacy of aircraft designed to move important people, equipment, or more critically, mountains of relief supplies after a disaster from Point A to Point B as quickly as possible.
As more and more aircraft fill the sky, the aircraft have to be controlled and airspace deconflicted—the number of takeoffs should always equal the number of landings. And Lockheed Martin is also a leader in air traffic control. Today, our software helps millions of people reach their destinations every year, touching about 60 percent of the world’s total air traffic.
As we look at what’s next, the future looks bright.
Lean and Green
Leaner defense budgets are driving the need for “greener” tankers, and strategic and tactical airlifters. In 2010 alone, the U.S. Air Force spent $10 billion in fuel, with mobility aircraft being the biggest gas guzzler.
“Saving even one percent is a huge amount of fuel and a big reduction in cost,” said Rick Hooker, Skunk Works® manager of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Revolutionary Configuration for Energy Efficiency (RCEE) program.
Current efforts such as the RCEE program are seeking to identify the highest fuel saving technologies and develop their maturation plans for the 2035 timeframe.
“We can improve mobility capabilities with 70 percent less fuel than a C-17,” says Hooker. “The cornerstones of our Hybrid Wing Body (HWB) concept are efficiency, affordability, and compatibility. Designed with an eye to the future, the HWB program would save 400 million gallons of fuel per year and would be capable of dual use as both an efficient transport and tanker.”
While it’s important to look ahead, there are opportunities that are already being implemented today. For instance, the C-130’s fuel efficiency can be boosted thanks to lightweight devices called microvanes, which reduce the aircraft’s drag. These miniature strake-like devices are located on each side of the aircraft’s aft fuselage near the cargo ramp door and horizontal tail.
“Both legacy and C-130J operators can benefit because the shape of the back end of the aircraft hasn’t changed,” said Edward DiGirolamo, Skunk Works research engineering manager. “Microvanes can be installed on the production line or as an easy retrofit with no structural impact. They are relatively inexpensive and offer a good payback.”
The greening of engines also appears to be paying back in dividends.
“We constantly work with major engine companies to ensure that our designs include the latest engine technologies and concepts for greater efficiency and reduced fuel burn,” noted DiGirolamo. He explained that those technologies include engines with higher pressure ratios for engine thermal efficiency as well as higher bypass ratios for propulsive efficiency. The next generation engines even promise to reduce fuel burn by as much as 35 percent for the same amount of thrust.
No Roads? No Problem
Even the best planes need paved runways to take off and land to make deliveries. When that infrastructure is not available, many opt for a helicopter. However, a helicopter also comes with certain limitations, such as limited range and high operating costs.
Currently, more than two-thirds of the world’s land area and more than half the world’s population have no direct access to paved roads. As you move farther away from infrastructure, cost, time and the safety of transport becomes more of a challenge.
“Hybrid aircraft allow access virtually anywhere – water or land, in normal flying weather conditions – without infrastructure or manpower and could deliver larger and outsized payloads,” explained Dr. Robert Boyd, manager of the Skunk Works Hybrid Airship program. How much larger of a payload you ask? Try a stadium-sized craft that could carry as much as 500 tons—more than any other air vehicle in existence.
This type of capability would grant access into hard-to-reach areas to enable lifesaving response in the early aftermath of a calamity. It could also carry large quantities of commercial cargo, giving infrastructure-poor areas a chance at success in the global economy.
When you don’t have stadium-sized cargo and need to support small units of dispersed soldiers, a flexible and autonomous unmanned transport option may be the best solution. Lockheed Martin has pioneered the application of unmanned vehicle technology for the U.S. Marine Corps in Afghanistan since 2011 with the K-MAX cargo helicopter, which helps protect troops from IEDs by reducing the need for truck convoys. “Beyond that, we’re looking at next generation VTOL delivery concepts,” said Kevin Renshaw manager of the Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded Systems (ARES) program.
ARES would allow cargo to be carried at higher speeds in multi-purpose modular packages while being protected from the effects of wind and elements in flight. The compact system would also enable operations from smaller landing zones than an open rotor helicopter.
“The cargo module is just one application of the system, but it could support rapid resupply of dispersed units in the field,” added Renshaw. And in an age where multi-functionality and punctuality are key, the modular nature of the system would allow a single VTOL UAV lifter to be used for multiple roles and missions, determined by the type of cargo pod to be transported.
Moving Flights from A to B
Even the most advanced aircraft need help completing their journeys efficiently. Air traffic controllers use complex systems to keep aircraft safely separated and on efficient flight paths. However, much of today’s air travel is controlled by decades old systems that weren’t designed to efficiently handle the amount of air traffic today’s interconnected world produces. Lockheed Martin is already delivering the next generation of air traffic management systems that will help aircraft fly more fuel efficient routes and move through busy airspace more effectively. Ultimately these new systems will improve air travel for millions of people.
“Imagine you received a call before your commute and learned that if you left five minutes later and took a different road, you’d miss traffic, arrive ahead of time and find a parking space right next to your office door,” said Kevin Hightower, chief technology officer of Lockheed Martin’s Transportation Solutions business. “We’re working on solutions that will enable controllers to help airlines do the same with flights in the air and on the ground at airports.”
Learn more about our air mobility technology and platforms.
March 4, 2014
- Current efforts such as the RCEE program are seeking to identify the highest fuel saving technologies and develop their maturation plans for the 2035 timeframe.
- We constantly work with major engine companies to ensure that our designs include the latest engine technologies and concepts for greater efficiency and reduced fuel burn.
- Hybrid aircraft allow access virtually anywhere – water or land, in normal flying weather conditions – without infrastructure or manpower and could deliver larger and outsized payloads.
LM-100J, the civil-certified commercial variant of the C-130J Hercules.