For KLM, sustainability in air travel is a big deal. At the recent IATA Annual General Meeting in Seoul (South Korea), KLM Royal Dutch Airlines demonstrated that commitment by backing the country’s Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the development of an innovative highly energy-efficient concept aircraft known as the “Flying-V”. And yes, the jet comes in the shape of a “V”, but not in vain.

On June 2, 2019, KLM and TU Delft signed a cooperative agreement to work together on a wide-fuselage long-haul aircraft that integrates the passenger cabin, cargo hold and fuel tanks in the wing structure, giving it a futuristic V-shaped look.

Originally conceptualized by a TU Berlin (Germany) student Justus Benad while writing his thesis at Airbus Hamburg, the project is being spearheaded by Dr. Roelof Vos - project leader at TU Delft (the Netherlands). The research conducted here on the new energy-efficient plane will now be funded by the Dutch national carrier.

According to TU Delft, the aerodynamic shape of the jet, where all the components are housed in the wings of the plane, would reduce its weight, allowing it to save 20% on fuel compared to today’s most advanced aircraft, the Airbus A350-900.

"We've been flying these tube and wing airplanes for decades now, but it seems like the configuration is reaching a plateau in terms of energy efficiency," Vos told CNN Travel. "The new configuration that we propose realizes some synergy between the fuselage and the wing. The fuselage actively contributes to the lift of the airplane, and creates less aerodynamic drag."

Image: Edwin Wallet, OSO Studio for TU Delft

The “Flying-V” would have the same wingspan as the A350 at 65 m (212 ft 5 in), but would be shorter – at 55 m (180 ft 5 in). Although smaller than the A350, the V-shaped aircraft would still be able to carry 314 passengers in standard configuration (the A350-900 carries 300-350 in typical 3-class configuration). The V’s wingspan also means no airport alterations would be needed to handle the aircraft.

“The Flying-V is smaller than the A350 and has less inflow surface area compared to the available amount of volume. The result is less resistance. That means the Flying-V needs less fuel for the same distance,” said Vos in an official statement announcing the agreement with KLM.

Image: Edwin Wallet, OSO Studio for TU Delft

In its present design, powered by two rear-mounted turbofan engines, the aircraft would fly on kerosene, but the developers of the plane state they intend to make use of the latest innovations in the propulsion system, for instance, switching from fuel to electrically-boosted turbofan engines.

Researchers are set to unveil the flying prototype of their new aircraft this autumn, as KLM celebrates its 100th anniversary. Both the flying scaled model and a full-size section of the interior of the “Flying-V” will be presented at the KLM Experience Days at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS) on October 3-13, 2019. For now, here is a teaser trailer of the new aircraft:

 

 

The flying prototype will proceed to be tested at low speeds - during take-off and landing. "We've done numerical testing and preliminary wind tunnel tests, but we need to do much more testing in wind tunnels -- high speed and low speed -- to demonstrate that this airplane is efficient as we think,” Vos was quoted as saying by CNN Travel.

Regulatory bodies around the world have been buzzing about the need to accelerate the reduction of aviation industry’s carbon footprint, pushing for the introduction of biofuel, innovative solutions and the development of more fuel efficient aircraft. By funding the “Flying-V” research at TU Delft, KLM aims to lead in efforts of developing more sustainable long-distance flight.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is part of the Air France-KLM Group, which has been consistently ranked as one of the most sustainable in the world, according to the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) for airlines.