Considering Carbon Footprints in the Sky

Take flight with Professor David Zingg and his unconventional thinking on environmentally sensitive aircraft design.

 |  Transcript [PDF]

When you get on an airplane you probably don’t think about how much fuel it’s going to take to get you to your destination, but Prof. David Zingg from the University of Toronto does.  He wants to design airplanes that are more efficient and therefore more environmentally friendly.

Demand for air travel is increasing by 4-5% per year while fuel efficiency is only increasing by 1%.  If things continue in this way, we’ll be releasing more and more carbon dioxide annually.  Prof. Zingg is the Director of the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies.  His group designs tools to optimize the shape of aircraft to improve aerodynamics and decrease drag force.   The lower the drag force, the less energy the plane needs to move forward and less energy means less fuel.

But simply incrementally optimizing current designs won’t be enough.  The aerospace community wants to cut emissions from aviation in half by 2050.  In order to get that step increase in fuel efficiency, we’ll need unconventional aircraft designs.  Prof. Zingg is studying new concepts like the blended wing body: instead of a distinct fuselage and wings, they are blended.  Another unconventional design is a joined wing, where a lower wing and an upper wing eventually join together.  Airplanes 20 years from now could look very different.

Prof. Zingg’s group often collaborates with the aircraft industry, including Bombardier Aerospace, Pratt & Whitney Canada, and the NASA Ames Research Center.  You know all those flaps that move around on airplane wings?  These are designed to increase lift during take-off and Bombardier Aerospace uses one of the Zingg lab algorithms, TORNADO, for their design.

Research like Prof. Zingg’s is exactly the type of research that’s necessary to keep our global temperatures from rising.

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David Zingg has been a Professor at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) since 1988 and has been the Director of UTIAS since 2006. His research areas include aerodynamics, computational fluid dynamics, and aerodynamic shape optimization. His current research is focussed on applying high-fidelity aerodynamic shape optimization to the design of novel aircraft configurations motivated by the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft. Dr. Zingg was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for research in the design of environmentally friendly aircraft in 2004 and held a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Computational Aerodynamics and Environmentally Friendly Aircraft Design from 2001 to 2015.