Breaking the cost barrier

Richard Noble is planning to follow up the success of his Thrust SSC project with the design of an air taxi which will use the short runways of public use airports/airfields.

With most of us only 20 minutes away from one of these airfields, Noble intends to make point-to-point air travel possible through the manufacture of an aircraft which flies faster than a congested airliner and uses a single Pratt & Whitney PT6A turboprop engine.

The primary structure of the plane will be made from material consisting of carbon fibres set in a toughened epoxy matrix. This low weight, high strength material can be moulded into desired shapes which are then glued or bonded together using the Revell mode concept (i.e. few and large components assembled with minimum number of fasteners). This should reduce both the weight and the time it takes to build the plane.

This method also affects aerodynamic design, and using CFD and wind tunnel tests, the designers have developed a high-lift/low drag laminar flow wing.

The wing surfaces of conventional aircraft exhibit considerable waviness and also have rough surface features like rivets. These imperfections cause the flow of air over the wing to become turbulent, creating drag on the aircraft. Using composites, the designers claim to have manufactured smooth wing surfaces which generate exceptionally high low-speed lift.

With a cruising speed of 345mph and an anticipated 1000 flight hours per annum, Noble estimates that the operating cost will be around £1.01 per mile.

Following successful wind tunnel tests, its first flight is planned for 2002. By 2003, Noble hopes to have completed the construction of a production plant, which he then intends to clone by 2005.