Flight of fancy


There’s no doubt that there have been some astonishing advances in civil aviation over the course of the past 100 years.

Developments in aerodynamics, flight control, materials, fuels and propulsion have all conspired to usher in a mode of transport that underpins the world’s economy and has transformed the geography of our planet.

Airbus' concept future airliner
Airbus’ concept future airliner

It’s amusing to note that just over a century ago, The Engineer didn’t hold out much hope for this young pretender, writing that ‘It seems certain that there is practically no chance of its becoming a commercial means of transport.’ 

This rate of change continues in the present day with emissions regulations driving engineers ever-onwards in the quest for more fuel-efficient propulsion systems and aircraft. Meanwhile, the growing use of composite materials and the emergence of manufacturing quality 3D printing techniques are changing the way aircraft are made and what they’re made from.

The E-Fan is the first electric aircraft to use shrouded propellers, which cut engine noise

Advances in what is a necessarily conservative industry tend to be incremental rather than radical. But with a host of disruptive new technologies on the drawing board might we expect to see some more fundamental change in the decades ahead?

For instance, could the astonishing developments being made in unmanned military aircraft filter through to the civil space? As with driverless car there’s certainly an argument that autonomous aircraft might be safer: less prone to hijacking, or the kind of tragic events we witnessed in the Alps earlier this year.

Similarly, from the development of electric motors for aerospace to Airbus’ plans to build a factory in Southwest France to manufacture its E-Fan aircraft – electric flight is beginning to gain ground.   

Siemens 2
Siemens 2

Perhaps even more “out-there” is the concept of hypersonic flight, which would use developments in scramjet technology to slash flight times and shrink our world even more.

Will any of these amount to anything, or will these grand visions remain just that?

Lot’s of questions, I’m afraid, and not many answers. Which is why we’ve assembled a panel of experts from across the aero industry to answer your questions on the technologies that will shape the future of civil aerospace.

Please send us your questions – by commenting at the bottom of this page – on aerodynamic design, materials, control, navigation, manufacturing or any other aspect of civil aviation by 5pm on Thursday 21st May, and we will print answers in our next issue and on our website.