Conference paper Open Access

Feasibility Study of a Nuclear Powered Blended Wing Body Aircraft for the Cruiser/Feeder Concept

La Rocca, G.; Li, M.; Chiozzi, M.

This paper describes the conceptual study of a nuclear powered blended wing body aircraft for the cruiser/feeder concept. According to this radically new aviation paradigm, large transport aircraft (cruisers) carry passengers over long distances, while remaining airborne for very long periods. Smaller aircraft (feeders) take off from local airports, intercept the cruiser, dock and enable in-flight exchange of passengers and supplies. Preliminary studies indicated that cruiser concepts based on engines burning kerosene would be too heavy and feeders would need to operate also as tankers. Propelling the cruiser with a nuclear power source would yield very high efficiency parameters, even if the weight of the system would result higher due to the required reactor shielding. The blended wing body configuration was selected both for its potential advantages in terms of aerodynamic and structural efficiency, as well as for the use flexibility of its internal volume, necessary to integrate power plants and shielding, accommodate 1000 passengers and host the loading/unloading station for in-flight payload exchange. The daring nature of the proposed solution is compatible to the foreseen entry into service date, which is set for the last part of this century. The peculiar nature of the aircraft under consideration has required a somehow different conceptual design approach, than generally used for conventional passenger transport aircraft. Apart from the inherent complexity related to the design of such a novel and integrated configuration as a blended wing body, the typical design approach based on the use of simple performance equations and statistics to achieve a first estimation of the main weight contributors was of little use in this case. From one side, the fuel mass used to perform the mission is just negligible; from the other, a method was necessary to account for the weight of the radiation shielding, which is a significant contribution to the overall aircraft weight. Rather than in the numerical results of the sizing process, the value of the design work described in this paper should be found in the very design approach and the preliminary ideas for integrating the passenger docking system and the nuclear power plant. ---
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