Geoffrey Spedding, an engineer at the University of Southern California, and Joachim Huyssen at Northwest University in South Africa have made a simple modular aircraft in three configurations: a flying wing alone, then wings plus body, and then wings plus body and a tail.
It turned out that they had independently re-designed a bird shape, but without specific reference to anything bird-like.
They started with a configuration where the entire plane is one big wing. Then they added a body designed to minimize drag and, most critically, a small tail, which essentially serves to undo aerodynamic disturbances created by the body.
Spedding and Huyssen analyzed the airflows and at various relative angles for the wings, body and tail, searching for ways to achieve greater lift (the better for carrying cargo) and lower drag (for higher fuel efficiency).
They made the stipulation that for any given mission, the best plane is the one that generates the least drag.
Spedding recognized that the design of real planes is necessarily a compromise of many engineering, economic and psychological constraints.
"The most important point is that we may be wasting large amounts of fossil fuel by flying in fundamentally sub-optimal aircraft designs," said Spedding.
"At the very least, we can show that there exists an alternative design that is aerodynamically superior. One may argue that there is now an imperative to further explore this (and perhaps other) designs that could make a significant difference to our global energy consumption patterns," he added.
The designs would be presented at the American Physical Society Division of Fluid Dynamics meeting in Long Beach. (ANI)