In January, we reported on the intriguing Sky Whale proposal - a conceptual passenger airliner that combines existing and imminent technologies to create a best-case-scenario future aircraft. The Sky Whale design throws in everything from hybrid engines to solar panels to virtual-reality windows.
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Now the creator of the Sky Whale, Barcelona-based designer Oscar Viñals, has cooked up an even bigger variation on the theme: The enormous GIGAbay cargo plane, a flying warehouse so large that it could fit two fuselage sections of an Airbus A350 passenger airliner within its storage bay.
It gets crazier: By using cutting edge ceramics, fibers and carbon nanotubes, the GIGAbay would be much more energy-efficient than smaller cargo planes, consuming less fuel while carrying more weight. Hybrid electric engines would mean fewer hazardous emissions and less noise.
Add to all this onboard alternative energy systems - solar and wind units plus hydrogen fuel cells - and the GIGAbay actually generates and stores its own power in-flight. When the flying behemoth lands, it can be morphed into a mobile power station, water treatment plant or even a three-story, self-sustaining hospital.
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First and foremost, though, the GIGAbay is designed to be a super-efficent cargo plane. Depending on configuration, the aircraft could haul up to 220 tons of cargo in more than 2,300 cubic meters of storage space. The engines are designed to rotate up to 45 degrees vertically, which would reduce the length of runway required for take-offs and landings.
Additional tweaks using smart materials and sensors would adjust internal air pressure on the fly, as it were, further increasing efficiency. According to the official project page: "This airplane can breathe."
It's all rather glorious, but of course conceptual designs are one thing; airline industry realities are another - we may have to wait a few decades to see how it all plays out. To that end, we just powered up the Discovery News HQ time machine and sent a couple summer intern to the year 2034. But now the flux capacitor's jammed and we can't get them back. Updates as events warrant.
Credit: Oscar Viñals