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Boeing not convinced by blended wing aircraft design

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Radical passenger plane presents significant configuration problems

Boeing is unlikely to pursue the blended wing as a serious design option for a future civil airliner because of configuration and consumer acceptance issues, one of US company's top engineers has admitted.

Mike Sinnett, Boeing's vice-president of product development, said blended wing configurations were still being evaluated within his organisation. However, he cast doubt over whether they would ever result in the introduction of a radical shaped passenger plane.

Sinnett said: “A lot of people want to see a blended wing aircraft because it looks cool. But studies into commercial transport show that it is not as efficient as more traditional configurations.”

Sinnett said blended wing designs presented acceptability problems, with passengers unwilling to sit in windowless environments. He said that those sitting towards the edges of the cabin would feel particularly uncomfortable during banking manoeuvres. And he said that evacuation of a blended wing aircraft during an emergency would also prove problematic. “Therefore I think blended wing might be better suited for freighter applications,” he added.

For the foreseeable future Sinnett said that passenger aircraft would continue to be based on the tried and trusted “tube and wings” configuration.

In terms of a possible future supersonic passenger aircraft, Sinnett confirmed that Boeing was working with Nasa on low boom technologies to get over noise constraints. “We are continuing to invest in this area. We continue to look at it,” he said.

Sinnett's comments came at the Paris Air Show, where the US planemaker was keen to discuss a variety of leading-edge technologies that could be introduced in the near-term. These included advances in natural laminar flow that greatly improve fuel efficiency; stronger, lightweight and more durable materials beyond carbon composites such as ceramic matrixes that reduce airplane weight; and alternative fuels such as hydrogen and liquified natural gas.

“We're building on gains we've made on our newest airplanes to raise the bar for our next generation of airplanes. We make investments in technology that deliver superior value for our customers and for Boeing,” he added.

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