Is it an egg, a blimp, or a bullet that’s in there? Whatever you choose to call the form of the Otto Celera 500L, it’s a distinctive one that stands out from the crowd. It is unlike any other plane on the planet, and for good reason: its aerodynamics are unparalleled.
The form of the Celera is intended to substantially minimise drag by enabling air to flow very smoothly over the plane’s surface, resulting in a significant reduction in drag. As a result, the aircraft’s power requirements are reduced, resulting in reduced fuel consumption.
“This gives us four to five times the efficiency of other turboprop aircraft and seven to eight times the efficiency of jet aircraft,” says William Otto Jr., CEO of Otto Aviation. “This gives us four to five times the efficiency of other turboprop aircraft.”
In terms of statistics, this translates into operational expenses that are significantly higher than those of comparably sized commercial jets. It is estimated that flying on the Celera will cost $328 an hour compared to $2,100. It will achieve fuel economy of 18 to 25 miles per gallon — comparable to that of a big SUV — compared to two or three miles per gallon on the 737.
That’s on top of having adequate room for six people, travelling at 460 miles per hour, and having an endurance of 4,500 miles, which is equivalent to that of an airliner. Is everything that seems too nice to be true?
The Celera 500L, which is presently a prototype, is the brainchild of William Otto Sr., an aerospace veteran whose work includes the Minuteman missile programme in the United States and the B-1 bomber programme in the United Kingdom. As a thought experiment, the team set out to determine whether it was feasible to create a business aircraft that was significantly less expensive to operate than present possibilities.
The torpedoes he had studied while trying to fit more of them into his submarine served as inspiration for Otto’s research. In order to do this, he reduced the size of the motors that powered them by designing torpedoes with a more efficient form that required less power.
The form was influenced by a notion known as “laminar flow,” which is a type of turbulent flow.
Laminar flow occurs when a fluid — such as air — travels in parallel layers with no interruption; it is the polar opposite of turbulence, which occurs when a fluid is mixed or chaotic in its flow characteristics.
The egg-like form of the Celera 500L is intended to create laminar flow over the plane’s surface, allowing for a smoother penetration through the air as the plane moves forward.
As compared to similar-sized aircraft, Otto Aviation claims that the design provides a 59% decrease in drag, resulting in significant savings in both fuel and greenhouse gas emissions.
What’s more, if laminar flow is so effective, why aren’t all planes made in this manner?
“In order to preserve laminar flow, structures must be designed so that they do not flex, bend, or distort the form,” adds Otto. Because metal would be impossible to use, composites are the only method to do this.
Minor, transient flaws such as ice or crushed bugs may have a significant impact on laminar flow, which is particularly problematic when applied at the scale of an aircraft. Otto speculates that low-cost gasoline may have also had a part in designers’ decision to forego complex engineering in favour of simpler designs.
In order to take advantage of laminar flow and reduce the plane’s power requirements, the Celera 500L is fitted with a single V12 diesel engine in the rear, which was designed by German company RED. In Otto’s words, “it was the most efficient aeroplane engine we could discover to go with the most efficient aerodynamic body we could find.” In the not-too-distant future, the diesel engine may be replaced with an electric or hydrogen engine, allowing the plane to operate without emitting any pollutants. According to Otto, “For the time being, we’ve lowered carbon emissions by 80 percent compared to rival aircraft; on a per-passenger basis, we’re doing better than the airlines satisfying the 2030-2050 emissions criteria.”
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