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Bombardier's EcoJet research project completes small-scale testing

The blended-wing-body aircraft aims to reduce emissions by up to 50 per cent

IMAGE: Bombardier's EcoJet
A test version of Bombardier's EcoJet in flight. (Courtesy Bombardier Inc.)

Bombardier Inc. has reached a milestone in the development of its EcoJet research project, completing the first phase of testing with a small-scale model of the blended-wing-body aircraft.

The EcoJet aims to reduce aircraft emissions by up to 50 per cent through a combination of aerodynamics and propulsion enhancements.

“Typically, for the past 50, 60 years, airplanes have been mostly a circular fuselage, where we join a wing underneath. Some current airplanes have the wing up top. The efficiency of blending those shapes, essentially, you blend the wing with the body, you end up reducing drag. So an airplane that flies just like a car,” Benoit Breault, Bombardier’s director of research and technology, told SustainableBiz.

“I find the simplest way to explain this as less fuselage, more wing, but for the same cabin volume. So really the passenger, I believe, is going to not have to suffer.”

Based in Greater Montreal, Bombardier (BBD-B-T) has a worldwide fleet of approximately 5,000 aircraft in service with a variety of multinational corporations, charter and fractional ownership providers, governments and private individuals. The company operates aerostructure, assembly and completion facilities in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

It also has facilities in the U.K., Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, the U.A.E., Singapore, China and Australia.

EcoJet over a decade in the making

“We've started (on the EcoJet) more than a decade ago. We started small with just conceptual studies from our engineers . . . The research program has grown and grown and grown,” Breault said. “Now we're at a place where the conceptual studies are mostly mature enough that we chose, okay, let's go and flight test that technology.”

The most recent research was conducted with a model approximately seven per cent of the size of a business jet. The second phase involves a model twice as large, which completed its first flight in 2022.

“The next step is for us to go and complete the flight test program of that larger vehicle. It's definitely very large for the technology that we have to develop,” Breault explained. “Once that's done, we'll see what the next steps are. But really, it's about validating the flight dynamics via those autonomous vehicles.”

The tests with the larger model will take place over the next couple of years. As such, there's no firm timeline to commercialize the EcoJet. Breault did not offer specifics, only referring to Bombardier’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 as a guideline.

While the test flights are autonomous, Breault said Bombardier is designing the EcoJet for use with two pilots as per current regulations. However, the architecture of the plane will be designed so future developments in autonomous flying could be incorporated if regulations change.

Preparing for an unknown future

Bombardier’s engineers also designed the EcoJet to be compatible with any type of propulsion that may become mainstream in the future, whether it's hybrid-electric, fully electric or utilizing sustainable aviation fuel (SAF).

Bombardier is a member of the Canadian Council for Sustainable Aviation Fuels, which recently launched a roadmap to produce a billion litres of SAF annually by 2030. Bombardier is already using SAF at a 30 per cent blend in its flight operations, reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of those flights by 25 per cent.

“The idea is that we want to be to make our platforms and our current products already compatible with SAF as soon as possible. However, there's a lot of constraints with SAF that are not in Bombardier’s direct control, mostly with the availability of SAF in the actual supply network of airports,” Breault said. “So there's no doubt that SAF will be fully compatible for the EcoJet.”

In the last three years, Bombardier published environmental product declarations for its Challenger 3500, Global 5500, Global 6500 and Global 7500 airplanes. These declarations examine the environmental impact of the aircraft throughout its entire lifespan, and those findings will be integrated into the EcoJet program.

Breault also discussed the number of tests still to come for the EcoJet.

"We know what we're talking about in the standard tube-and-wing type of architecture, and it's not going to be different for other types of airplane makers. Going to a completely new aerodynamic shape will require a lot of empirical data tests. A wind tunnel test, data optimization tools are going to have to be tweaked,” he said.

“So, between that and the fact that we are designing, for example, the next generation wing that we're going to put on there, and that airplane as well. (There are) simulation tools, as I've discussed, the sum of which makes for a very busy research project.”

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