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NASA EDGE: Future of Aeronautics
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NASA EDGE: Future of Aeronautics

Green Aviation
- Karen Taminger
- Florence Hutcheson
- Garry Qualls

The future of Aeronautics involves much more than upgrades to first class and edible meals during long flights. NASA is currently helping make future aircrafts lighter, stronger and... wait for it... quieter. Whether they are testing new designs and materials in wind tunnels or measuring acoustics in the Quiet Flow Facility (QFF,) NASA researchers and engineers are radically reshaping the way we fly. Unfortunately, there are no plans to prevent the Co-Host from hitting the slide.


CHRIS: Welcome to NASA EDGE.

BLAIR: An inside and outside look.

FRANKLIN: …at all things NASA.

CHRIS: We’re going to be talking about the future of aeronautics today.

BLAIR: Yes, a very exciting topic.

CHRIS: In fact, NASA does a lot of aeronautics research at four field centers across the country.

BLAIR: Sure do.

CHRIS: We’re here at NASA Langley Research Center. Where are the other three, Franklin?

FRANKLIN: Glenn Research Center…

CHRIS: In Ohio.


CHRIS: California.

FRANKLIN: And Dryden.

CHRIS: Dryden Flight Research Center also in California.

BLAIR: And interestingly, we have to use flight to get to those centers when we visit.

CHRIS: That’s true. In fact, we travel quite a bit on the show. We go from field center to field center covering the very cool topics, from exploration to science to aeronautics now. You know how it is in the airports. Sometimes our planes are delayed.

BLAIR: Bedlam.

CHRIS: We’re on the tarmac sometimes for an extended period of time. The noise levels on the plane are pretty loud. Sometime it can get frustrating.

BLAIR: It’s really interesting to think that actually NASA is tackling those issues…

CHRIS: Right.

BLAIR: Trying to improve the quality of life for travelers all across the country, and in fact, the world.

CHRIS: And then the challenge is going to be instead of just tackling those issues individually, how can you tackle that all at one time so that you can develop an aircraft the is quiet, efficient, rated better for safety, and also cost effective?

FRANKLIN: They’re nicknaming this green aviation as they’re trying to tackle all these approaches.

BLAIR: Do you think Franklin, that NASA may have bitten off more than they can chew in this lofty endeavor because that’s actually doing a lot of stuff?

CHRIS: You know we have a lot of bright people here at NASA, especially here at NASA Langley. We actually had a chance to talk to two engineers. The first interview we’re going to look at is from Karen Taminger, who is an engineer. We actually had a chance to talk with her in the TDT. T-D-T, not TNT.

BLAIR: Yeah, in fact you startled me because I didn’t know it was a show on explosives.

[Franklin laughing]

CHRIS: It’s a very famous wind tunnel here at NASA Langley. And TDT stands for, Franklin?

FRANKLIN: The Transonic Dynamics Tunnel.

CHRIS: If you want to learn more about this historical wind tunnel, go to Look up TDT in the search engine and you’ll find a ton of info about the tunnel.

BLAIR: I can’t do that now but I’m still confused by transonic. What exactly does that mean?

CHRIS: Let’s go to Karen Taminger’s piece and when we come back we’ll explain what transonic means.

BLAIR: Great.

CHRIS: Let’s check out the interview.

CHRIS: We’re here in the historic TDT tunnel with Karen Taminger. Karen, what do you do here at NASA Langley?

KAREN: I’m the Associate Principal Investigator for Subsonic, fixed-winged project, specifically looking at structure’s aeroelasticity in materials.

CHRIS: That’s a mouthful.

KAREN: It is a mouthful. I like to tell the people in my program that I am SAM.

CHRIS: SAM. Structures Aeroelasticity…

KAREN: and Materials.

CHRIS: and Materials. That’s awesome.

KAREN: Exactly.

CHRIS: Karen, what’s the future of aeronautics going to look like?

KAREN: Airplanes in the future may look very similar to airplanes today from the outside but we’re making changes on the inside. Trying to make them more efficient, we’re improving the engine so they burn less fossil fuels, or no fossil fuels. We’re also looking at trying to improve the structures on the inside of the airplane so the airplane is far more resilient and more responsive to the environment. One of the improvements we’re trying to make in an attempt to reduce the weight and also reduce the manufacturing time and cost to assemble aircraft is to eliminate rivets and to improve the assembly. So, we’ve got both in metals and composite structures new technologies that are being developed on the materials’ side that enable you to build entire structures or large parts of structures so you can assemble large components rather than trying to assemble them at a very small level. This is demonstrating a variety of concepts that have all come together into a single component. What we see is a single piece of skin with stiffeners on it. But instead of stiffeners being straight and riveted, they’re all built into the structure.

CHRIS: Oh wow. Now this is just a piece of aluminum.

KAREN: This is a piece of aluminum. Some of the new manufacturing technologies enable us to build not only the stiffeners integral to the skin but also enable us to build them at varying heights and shapes. The curvature allows us to us to eliminate some of the cracks propagation routes in a traditional structure.

CHRIS: So in other words, essentially that aircraft could be much stronger.

KAREN: It could be stronger. The other thing we’re trying to do is eliminate the noise transmission from the aerodynamics on the outside of the airplane getting into the fuselage. What we found is that by changing the stiffeners location and shape we can actually eliminate the resonance of this particular panel so the acoustics don’t get in, in the first place.

CHRIS: So Karen, this is something similar to the piece of aluminum but this is a composite material?

KAREN: Yes, this is a composite structure called PRSEUS, which stands for Protruded Rod Stitched Efficient Unitized Structure. It’s got several features in it that’s an improvement over traditional composite structures in that it’s stitched together, which helps improve the load transfer from the skin into the stiffeners. It also helps to improve the damage tolerance because it doesn’t allow cracks to propagate through the structure as efficiently. This outside part would be the skin of the aircraft and these are the stiffeners and the ring frames that are carrying all of the load inside of the fuselage. This could also be used in wing panels where it would provide stiffness for the wings.

CHRIS: Is there, potentially, the fuselage of the aircraft could just be in big sections as opposed to smaller sections that they build now?

KAREN: Yes, the 787 is ground breaking in that respect. Because the 787 is built very large sections out of composites, all in single piece and then it’s got a few components that need to be assembled.

CHRIS: Now, the 787, that’s the dream liner which is going to be Boeing’s new aircraft for the future?

KAREN: Yes, exactly.

CHRIS: That should be coming. That’s already flown, right?

KAREN: It’s had some of its maiden flights and it’s going through testing and FAA certification right now.

CHRIS: Speaking of a cool aircraft, we have a nice one right behind us. What kind of model is this?

KAREN: This model is specifically looking at aerodynamic efficiency improvement, trying to improve the way aircraft fly.

CHRIS: Right.

KAREN: Future aircraft may have longer, high aspect ratio wings in order to capitalize on low drag, improved laminar flow, just as the wings you see on this aircraft. Because of those long, high aspect ratio wings, they tend to have problems with flutter, which is one on the things we test for here in the TDT. Flutter is an unsteady oscillation that occurs either from unsteadiness in the airflow or just from the interactions of the structure with the air as it moves through. One of the things this model is looking at is can we stiffen those wings externally by bracing them with the struts that are going from the tail to the tips of the wings. The real benefit in looking at changing the external surface is trying to get to 70% reduction in fuel burn, and 70% reduction in the acoustics, and the emissions that are currently emitted on flying aircraft today. In order to get that drastic level of reductions, some times we need to try some things that are new and different. They also have impacts on current aircraft from the inside out. We can implement these things but ultimately future aircraft may look very different from today.

CHRIS: That’s good. Karen, thank you so much. We’re looking forward to the future of aeronautics and hoping one day we’ll be able to fly something like this.

KAREN: Thank you.

BLAIR: Wow! That was an impressive aircraft. What was that?

CHRIS: It’s called the joined-wing wind tunnel model.

BLAIR: I was kind of hoping for a cooler name like Falcon or something.

CHRIS: Well, it’s just a test model right now. They’re looking at high altitude, high endurance, unmanned aircraft.

BLAIR: Interesting. Franklin, one thing I noticed about this test was all the emphasis on materials.

FRANKLIN: That is one of the things they test in the Transonic Dynamics Tunnel is materials and whether or not they’re steady or unsteady.

BLAIR: Yeah, because I always thought it was engine design and things like that. I didn’t realize that so much went into actually what it was made of.

CHRIS: Well, if you can make a rivet less aircraft and save a ton of weight, it’s going to save on fuel costs, save on money.

BLAIR: Yes, we here at NASA EDGE are anti-rivet.

[all laughing]

BLAIR: But you owe me one definition.


BLAIR: If you don’t mind, what’s the definition of transonic? I wasn’t quite sure about that.

CHRIS: We know subsonic is traveling less than the speed of sound. Supersonic is traveling faster than the speed of sound. And then you have hypersonic that is traveling much, much faster, at 4,000 miles faster but transonic is looking at speeds near the speed of sound.

BLAIR: Okay, that’s very important then if you’re testing aircraft of this kind. You want to be able to approach the speed of sound.

CHRIS: Yeah, NASA is testing aircraft at all flight regimes, from subsonic all the way to hypersonic.

BLAIR: Ah, very cool.

FRANKLIN: Hey guys, let’s take a break and when we come back we’ll talk about green aviation and what NASA is doing to reduce flight noise.

BLAIR: Green aviation?

CHRIS: Is that why he wore the green shirt?

BLAIR: Green shirt. Yep, you got it.


CHRIS: Welcome back. We’re here to talk about a very cool segment of the show on green aviation.

BLAIR: And Franklin is wearing his very colossal, green shirt in honor of that.

CHRIS: Absolutely. You see NASA has some pretty lofty goals when it comes to green aviation.

BLAIR: Loftiness.

CHRIS: So what they want to do is reduce the aircraft fuel consumption, emissions, and noise simultaneously, which is a much more difficult challenge if you just try to tackle each individual one first. If you look at it, fuel efficiency, emissions, and noise, tough challenge.

BLAIR: Yeah, in fact, Franklin, I don’t know about you but I didn’t really think about noise in terms of being a green issue at all.

FRANKLIN: Well, noise is pollution.

BLAIR: That’s a good point.

FRANKLIN: Around airports that has been a number one concern of the residents. That the air pollution and the noise pollution that come from aircraft has been too high.

CHRIS: If you look at each of these factors real quick, fuel efficiency, do you realize that in 2008, U.S. commercial air carriers burned 19.7 billion gallons of jet fuel while aircraft owned and operated by DOD burned another 4.6 billion gallons of jet fuel?

BLAIR: Wow, that is amazing.

CHRIS: At $3 per gallon, that’s a cost of $73 billion in fuel alone.

BLAIR: Who’s paying $3 a gallon?

[All laughing]

CHRIS: Well, back in 2008.

BLAIR: Yeah, okay. All right, fair enough.

CHRIS: If you look at emissions as well, we’re trying to reduce emissions by 20% by 2015, 50% by 2020, and greater than 50% by 2025. And noise, it says aircraft noise continues to be regarded as the most significant hindrance to increasing the capacity of the national air space system.

BLAIR: And also as a fashion statement, it’s really tricky on those guys on the tarmac. They have to wear those big earphones. You know, it’s hard to look cool out there directing traffic when you’ve got those things going on. You know, but they’re necessary, don’t get me wrong. That’s safety and that’s important.

CHRIS: Tell us about the interview.

FRANKLIN: I talked to Florence Hutcheson, who is an engineer. She works in the QFF or the Quiet Flow Facility. She talked to me briefly about what NASA is doing to reduce aircraft noise. Let’s take a look at that interview.

CHRIS: Cool.

FRANKLIN: Hey guys, we’re here with Florence here at the QFF or the Quiet Flow Facility at the NASA Langley Research Center.


FRANKLIN: We’re talking about green aviation.


FRANKLIN: What is green aviation?

FLORENCE: Green aviation is about aircraft set of minimum impact on the environment. So NASA is working on meeting the goals of green aviation. Some of the impacts we are concerned with are noise, fuel burns, and emissions. We don’t want to pollute the air. For example, NASA is working with the FAA to develop the next generation of air traffic control to improve airport capacity and to minimize delays in the air and on the ground. These are one of the close partnerships and projects they’re working on together. One I am personally involved with is a hybrid wing bodied project that will be drastically quieter than the current aircraft.

FRANKLIN: This configuration is similar to that of the blended-wing body of years past?

FLORENCE: Yes, yes, it is very similar with the main exception in the blended-wing bodies that we have seen out there is the engines. There are three engines that are over hanging in the back of the aircraft, where as for these hybrid wing bodied concept, we’re looking at two engines that are located much farther forward so we can get some shielding of the noise forces in the back of the engine. Which is a challenge because those noise forces are distributed in nature so it makes it harder to shield them.

FRANKLIN: I take it here in the Quiet Flow Facility you are trying to lighten the amount of noise that’s coming from the aircraft body.

FLORENCE: Yes. We concentrate on the noise goal. We are developing quieter aircraft. So, this facility is specifically designed for aeroacoustic testing, where acoustics is the science of aerodynamically generated sound. So we look at how it is generated, how it radiates, how it propagates and how it interacts with other obstacles, different techniques to measure it and also to predict it. So the facility is specifically designed for anechoic testing. You see all these wedges around us and those are there to absorb the sound that is coming from the test section because we do not want any sound wave to be reflected off the walls because it will interfere with the noise that we are trying to measure, the noise that is directly radiating from our test model.

FRANKLIN: Are the articles or the pieces of the aircraft you’ve put in this test section, are they full scale or scaled down?

FLORENCE: They are scaled down. We usually look at just aircraft components, like the landing gear or a section of the wing with the flap, or we have a slat, and they’re usually about 6% scale. So we are looking at a scaled model here. We put the model in this test section where you can see the exit plan of the nozzle where the air is coming from the nozzle going up between those two side plates and exit through this collector in the ceiling. As the air is flowing around that aircraft component, it is generating noise. We use microphones to measure that noise and more specifically we use an array of microphones that you can see here located on this boom. It’s a cluster of 41 microphones…


FLORENCE: … for this one specifically. This array of microphones is used to pinpoint a different location around the test model so we can determine exactly where the noise is coming from and also quantified strength for each different location on the test model.

FRANKLIN: What are your goals as far as reducing the noise?

FLORENCE: Yes. For green aviation, right now, the goals are to confine the objectionable noise to within the airport boundaries. This means reducing the noise from every aircraft in the fleet, from the small commuter planes with propellers to the large commercial airliners. NASA and its partners hope to reduce future aircraft noise profiles by about 83% as compared to current levels. Also, we hope to reduce future aircraft emissions by 75%, and fuel consumptions by about 50% as compared to current levels. The green air future for aviation holds the premise for new life for airports because people will be able to enjoy the convenience and commercial benefits of living near an airport without enduring the racket and fumes that are so aggravating today.

FRANKLIN: That’s good to hear. Florence, thank you so very much for talking with us today.

FLORENCE: You are very welcome.

FRANKLIN: Here at the Quiet Flow Facility at NASA Langley Research Center. This is nice.

FLORENCE: Thank you.

FRANKLIN: Can I get some of these for my house?

FLORENCE: Sure, you can take a few. We have a few extra ones.

FRANKLIN: Good interview with Dr. Hutcheson. She gave me a list of places to visit in France when I go back.

[All laughing]

BLAIR: We need to plan that trip.

CHRIS: [speaks in French language]

BLAIR: Yeah, very nice interview. She’s great. She’s very easy to work with.


CHRIS: But the cool thing, going back to green aviation, going back to his shirt color.

BLAIR: Uh huh.

CHRIS: Some of the solutions that NASA is working on; that Florence is working on or Karen is working on. We want to improve aircraft design by looking at lightweight structures, composite materials, changes in engine design; making them more efficient. Now looking at the whole air transportation system, you know we talked about that next generation transportation system by 2025. There are a lot of different factors that go into green aviation. It’s a huge field.

BLAIR: In fact, I was surprised in the interview about how much attention was given to things like landing gear. It’s like you drop the landing gear, it’s like blowing a whistle or something. Here we are. We’re going to land.

FRANKLIN: Absolutely. And she talked about when aircraft coming into the airport are moving a lot slower and when the landing gear comes out it’s just another obstruction in the flow of the air around the aircraft, which causes so much noise. That’s what they’re working on to reduce the noise in the QFF.

CHRIS: That’s some good stuff, Franklin, but we’ve got to take a break.

BLAIR: Absolutely. When we come back, you’ll find out what new development has Langley all abuzz. You’re watching NASA EDGE.


BLAIR: Welcome back to NASA EDGE.

CHRIS: I can see we have an… interesting spread here.

BLAIR: Yeah. Well, you see the buzz, Franklin, as you know, as we all know, you’re now a new father.

CHRIS: That’s true. I am a new father. A baby boy, Adam Christopher, was born on July 13th. And I go use the restroom between breaks, I come back and I see this.

BLAIR: That’s right. Ron, do we have a picture of the baby we can put up? Um, I said the baby, picture of the baby? Okay, Adam. Ah, there we go.

[Franklin laughing]

BLAIR: Sorry man.

CHRIS: Who’s that?

BLAIR: It’s Adam.

CHRIS: That’s not Adam.

BLAIR: No that…. Really?

[All laughing]

BLAIR: Anyway, before we move on, we do want to get back to aeronautics.


BLAIR: But I did want to say, on behalf of the entire NASA EDGE crew, congratulations. And as a special kind of offering.


BLAIR: I just want to let you know, in all seriousness, I offer my services as Adam’s godfather and instruct him in the ways of the world, if necessary. And Franklin, I believe.

FRANKLIN: I’m Uncle Franklin.

CHRIS: Be careful when you say godfather because you’re going to pay for the child’s education. I’m all for it then. Penn State, out-of-state tuition; not a problem.

BLAIR: Psuedo-godfather… god brother maybe, if such a thing exists.

FRANKLIN: Hey, I got five on it.

[Blair laughing]

CHRIS: But speaking of educations, we have a cool segment coming here.

BLAIR: We do.

CHRIS: There are a lot of engineers here at NASA Langley, who mentor kids. We bring in a lot of students from university levels and even high school. One engineer, Garry Qualls, was fortunate enough to bring in 10 students this summer to work on a very cool project.

BLAIR: Yeah.

CHRIS: Tell a little bit more about that.

BLAIR: Well, actually what they’re doing is sort of an accident avoidance system for these remote helicopters.

CHRIS: Right.

BLAIR: They actually do collision avoidance and things like that using really interesting technology. One of the students happens to be Amanda, who has been a field reporter for us.

CHRIS: That’s right. That’s right.

BLAIR: So, let’s take a look at the clip.

BLAIR: Yes, we’re here with Garry Qualls. I understand you work with a bunch of students this summer. What, actually, did you guys work on?

GARRY:: Well, we have a group of 10 students working on a small robotics lab. We’ve got a combination of ground vehicles and some aerial vehicles. We’ve got a blimp. Mostly, we’ve been focusing on some quad-rotor helicopters, which are small helicopters with four motors that keep them up. The students have been teaching them how to fly around in a volume and interact with each other. That’s the whole idea of the lab, is to find out how these kind of interactions work best. There are situations that could vary from small planes in real air space to robots flying around indoors. To get this kind of work done, the students have had to look at computer programming. These kinds of robots have code on board that’s controlling how they work. There’s a lot of open source software for that. All the robots are talking to ground computers that have software running on them that the students have written. Most of the 10 students, at this point, have written their own control programs from scratch to control different vehicles, either ground vehicles, simulated airplanes flying around the county, and also these quad-rotors flying around inside the lab. We’ve got electrical engineering students, computer science students. We’ve got psychology students, aerospace engineering students, mechanical engineering students. They’re all having to work across several different disciplines. They’re all writing code. They’re all checking electronics. They’re all soldering stuff together, finding out what doesn’t work. Because solving these kind of problems is different from the normal kind of problems you get in a lab at school. In a lab or a homework assignment, you’re given everything you need to be able to solve the problem. Those are not the kind of problems you get out in the real world and that’s not the kind of problems we’re giving them here in the lab. We’re giving them problems where they have to do a lot of research online or go to the library, start conversations with people who are writing the open source software they’re trying to use. Those people will change the software to help us out and do our job. It’s very interactive and a very cross-disciplined project. To see them, toward the end of the summer, come into their own and feel very comfortable with electronics, very comfortable with software they’ve written, and be able to work together as a good team. It’s a really good feeling to see everything come together.

CHRIS: We’ve got to get one of those quad-copters for the office here.


BLAIR: For Adam. He could airlift in new diapers. You could have him bring them to you. You could hold your ands up. The helicopter could drop the gloves on and you’re good to go.

CHRIS: There you go.

BLAIR: For the record, he uses gloves to change diapers.

CHRIS: Before we go, we have to wrap up the show because we’re running short on time. I do want to mention one important thing. We talked about education. If you’re a student out there, if you’re a high school or college student, aeronautics has a lot of cool programs that you can participate in. If you go to you can go to that website and see a list of competitions, education programs. If you’re teachers, you can download cool activities. I really encourage you to go to the website.

BLAIR: And if you’re a really sharp student, you’ll end up doing things like Amanda with Garry Qualls or if you’re a really poor student, you’ll end up here in the NASA EDGE studio.

[All laughing]

BLAIR: On diaper duty.

CHRIS: And for the record, I don’t use the gloves anymore. That was old school.

BLAIR: Yes! That’s great. That’s good news. You’re growing.

CHRIS: You’re watching NASA EDGE.

FRANKLIN: An inside and outside look at all things NASA.

BLAIR: He’s becoming more fatherly.

CHRIS: I still can’t believe you’re wearing diapers.

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