I’ve read a lot of articles talking about an interesting fact: this summer was so hot that in some cities like Phoenix aircraft could not fly. If you are an engineer or a pilot, it should not be a surprise that in hot weather an aircraft’s performance can deteriorate until the point it is unsafe to attempt take off. But maybe you have not considered all the possible causes of why it’s too hot to fly. I will try to explain things in a very basic and simplified way, for the benefit of those who are not familiar with these phenomena.
Airlines and aircraft manufacturers are doing everything they can to lower their costs, including lightweighting every component possible, which can improve fuel efficiency. The industry spends more than a hundred billion dollars on fuel every year. While the price of oil is relatively low today, manufacturers and airlines must look ahead to the more than 25-year life span of the average airplane, assuming someday prices will rise again. Cost is a major driver, but the industry is also committed to reducing emissions during flight, and reducing fuel burn from the engine helps achieve this goal. Lightweighting, then, is one of the most important trends in the aerospace industry, and using composites, that can offer the required strength but at lower weight than metals, in manufacturing is a key strategy.
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I was fortunate enough to own a Lotus Elise for a number of years. I loved that car but had to give it up when I moved to the U.S. One of the reasons I liked it so much was the design philosophy it followed: “performance through lightweight.” The reduced mass of the car meant the relatively small engine could shove it along at a fair old rate, which is pretty obvious. But it also meant that the suspension didn’t have to be as beefy, and the amount of work the brakes had to do was also significantly reduced. Lightweighting has big benefits.
It’s a very virtuous cycle. Removing weight has a compound impact on pretty much all aspects of the car. Probably one of the least mentioned benefits (considering that this was a sports car) was the fuel economy. When I was driving at a steady speed on the motorway I could easily get better economy than a family sized diesel car. Continue reading