China reveals the shape of things that may come in air travel

China has flown a scale model of an airliner that exploits design elements not found in Western passenger jets

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

[caption id="attachment_62331" align="aligncenter" width="610"] COMAC's intriguing model jet will be closely studied in Toulouse and Seattle[/caption] There were two developments in China in recent days that point to serious intentions to innovate in the design of airliners that could break the Airbus and Boeing duopoly in larger scale aviation. And neither relate to the imminent first flight of the COMAC c919 single aisle jet, which has been doing taxying trials in Shanghai, and is imitative rather than innovative in seeking to join the huge market in such jets which is divided between the A320 and 737 families. Development Number One is about the starting of work on a ten year Sino-Russian project to build an A330 sized twin engined wide body jet that would be able to fly non-stop between China cities and those in the US. Or for that matter, fly the likes of Sydney or Melbourne non-stops to Los Angeles or Dubai. There is no hint in the China Aviation Daily report about #1 having anything to do with Development Number Two which is reported in the most detail in French on the East Pendulum site, but seems to survive Google translate without any major errors. For a teaser, you can also pick up the intriguing photos of the flight of a scaled model of future blended wing body or BWB Chinese airliner here. If  however #1 and #2 are aspects of the same wide-body 280 seat airliner ambition, there may be a lot more excitement in Airbus and Boeing than would be the case if China is sticking with the c919 strategy of producing an A320 or 737 clone (using western engines and other key components) that appears to be initially optimised for relatively short routes between PRC cities. Look closely at the photos of the model that actually flew in the East Pendulum site and you will see that this a blended wing body or fuselage intégré en français which needn't be any such thing, but a delta plan wing similar in construction to that seen on Concorde or its TU-144 emulator.  The engines remain in a conventional under wing location, not on struts above the ovaloid wing as seen in many other BWB studies. There is no attempt in the COMAC LingQue-B model to spill the passenger accommodation into the vastly increased wing area  as often seen in western BWB design studies. Which is smart on the part of the Chinese designers, since anyone seated that far from the centreline of the cabin would experience wildly exaggerated angular momentum forces in light turbulence or slight changes in heading even while taxying on the ground. The COMAC design is a thin wing, which doesn't present any opportunity to build a true BWB monocoque type structure in which much of the internal loading bearing components of a conventional design are replaced by an outer structure sufficiently strong to counter the stresses of 'ovalisation' which occur in pressurized fuselages and would be another serious obstacle to building a full fuselage intégré airliner. Instead the function of the delta shaped wing in this model seems to be to create space for more fuel, or perhaps, avoid the width requirements of conventional wings and thus make it easier to fit the airliner inside the gates at existing airports and be compatible with those taking nothing larger than an A321 today. All this means that, except for one glaring anomaly, the LingQue-B design represents a serious attempt to pack more range into a future airliner while keeping it sufficiently compact not to be incompatible with many existing airport gates or taxiyways. These are two issues that Airbus and Boeing engineers have identified in various studies dating back to the last century, yet which have not been addressed in their jets, apart from the inclusion of a folding wing tip in the design of the forthcoming Boeing 777-X family. The anomaly in the COMAC model is the V-shaped tail. Most of the technical commentary on the LingQue-B underlines the inherent aerodynamic risks of  diminished if not loss of control in a configuration like this if such an aircraft begins to yaw from side to side.  If a V-tail was to be a serious part of such a design it would presumably need continuous computer driven massaging of the control surfaces of the jet to prevent such a crisis developing. But whatever the reasons for the appearance of the model that flew in China in recent days, it signals an intention to do more than build replicas of existing western designs.

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17 thoughts on “China reveals the shape of things that may come in air travel

  1. Dan Dair

    The profile of the wings leading-edge has more Tu-144 about it than Concorde. It has two distinct phases, where Concorde had a more-continuous curve.

    The fact that it apparently flew in a completely autonomous test-flight, would appear to imply that they have got continuous computer monitoring of the control-surfaces.?
    I remember the old Beechcraft Baron from the 60’s ??, which had the V-tail & no stabiliser. AFAIK it worked well & was more fuel-efficient (or faster, if that was what you wanted.!!!) than a ‘standard’ design, but Beech eventually dropped it because the configuration was, as Ben highlighted, tricky to fly in certain circumstances.

    Perhaps, in the modern era of ‘inherently-unstable’ fighter-jets, some of that type of technology is being transferred to this civilian airliner.?

    1. Deano DD

      Drop the V tail
      Not a good canvas airline logos

    2. comet

      It doesn’t inspire me if it flies like a Tu-144 🙁

      1. Dan Dair

        If you look into the loss of the TU-144 at Paris, there appears to have been much more to it than the ‘poor Russian build-quality’ that Western media-outlets made of it at the time.?

    3. Mick Gilbert

      Dan, the Concorde had that beautiful ogival- or ogee-planform wing and while that was copied on the Tu-144 “Concordski” prototype, the Russians ended up using a simpler but far less aesthetically pleasing double-delta wing for the production airplanes.

  2. comet

    It’s unusual they needed to build a scale model to confirm its aerodynamics.

    It doesn’t seem they wanted to keep it secret. They then Tweeted the photo.

  3. Jacob HSR

    This is what future civilian aircraft will look like:

    Aurora D8

  4. Tango

    That would be the Beach Bonanza not Baron.

    Its issues were it was complex and there were unknown twisting forces involved that then proceeded to break the fuselage.

    Fuselage was beefed up and then it broker in another place.

    It has to be beefed up to carry forward into the main structure that could absorb it.

    Sad story as a number of breakups in mid air before it was all solved.

    T tail replaced it.

  5. Tango

    Interesting they are starting to think outside the box.

    Still a vast difference involved when you have government control as opposed to government support.

    The joint Russian and Chinese effort should be fun to watch as it becomes just a Chinese effort.

    1. Dan Dair

      Russian aviation have experience of building wide-body aircraft & more particularly wide-body civil aircraft.
      There’s no point re-learning that knowledge if you can obtain for free as part of a deal to buy the end-product at a discount.?

  6. Ben Sandilands


    I was at Le Bourget as a Paris based journalist when the TU-144 crashed in 1973. This is my story, but the others are in the National Film Archives in Canberra as ABC reports.

    1. comet

      I haven’t seen the original reports, but I have a mental image of the black plume of kerosene smoke rising, and Ben standing at the airfield holding a massive Nagra tape recorder, giving a Hindenburg-style commentary.

  7. George Glass

    Nothing here that wasnt rejected by Western designers 50 years ago.

    1. Dan Dair

      George Glass,
      I wouldn’t argue with your statement,
      but refer you back to my earlier one;
      “Perhaps, in the modern era of ‘inherently-unstable’ fighter-jets, some of that type of technology is being transferred to this civilian airliner.?”

      Since the technology has changed radically,
      perhaps re-looking at some ‘old & rejected’ ideas
      might bring new & different results.?

    2. comet

      The Boeing 737 had its first flight 50 years and 3 weeks ago.

      And that fuselage is still going.

      You’d think that after all that time, someone would think of something new.

  8. comet

    The historic first flight of the Comac 919 has taken place. The birth of the Chinese airliner industry? I think so. The Chinese government is in for the long haul. They’ll keep funding it, and getting better at it, until they are rivals to Boeing and Airbus.

    1. Dan Dair

      I agree completely.
      The ARJ21 has been supported by the Chinese authorities through Comac for ages & ages. They’ve built one & got it into service but it actually has orders for a few hundred.
      I’ve no doubt that the C919 will eventually get FAA certification.
      At that point, it will be really interesting to see whether any of the ARJ21 orders are transferred to the C919 & how many nations outside of ‘the usual suspects’ will take this aircraft.?

      If it turns out to be any good & at a decent price, Boeing will be much more worried than Airbus.?
      Someone had to be the Airbus first customer outside of the European Economic Union.
      Someone will be the first Western or non-aligned to the Chinese-bloc customer.?

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