Flying-V takes off: experimental aircraft no more ‘paper airplane

The landing could be a little better, but at TU Delft they are satisfied: the Flying-V, a revolutionary passenger plane, can really fly. Or at least the scale model with which the flying characteristics of the V-shaped aircraft were tested in the air for the first time.

“It gives me goose bumps,” says student Jan-Willem van Zwieten of Delft University of Technology at the pictures of the KLM-logo airliner passing by. It’s just like the real thing. Only this is not a real passenger plane but a scale model with a wingspan of about three meters.

Project leader Roelof Vos is very satisfied with the test flight:

Aerospace Engineering students have been working on the Flying-V since 2017. In the aircraft design, the passenger cabin, cargo deck and fuel tanks are integrated in the wing. Due to its aerodynamic shape and low weight, the aircraft consumes 20 percent less fuel than the Airbus A350, the most efficient aircraft today.

According to project leader Roelof Vos of Delft University of Technology, 20 percent less fuel may not seem like a huge amount, but it can make a huge difference in making aviation more sustainable. “It could be the most important revolution in aviation since the introduction of the jet engine

Vos is pleased with the results of the first test flight. “The plane was very well controllable. The nose didn’t cover anything and the remote pilot kept constant control of the aircraft.”

Nose wheel broken

That’s not to say that the small Flying-V flew perfectly. The centre of gravity of the aircraft was a little too far back, which was at the expense of stability. “The pilot had to work very hard to keep the plane straight.”

The plane sometimes wobbled back and forth a little. It suffered from a ‘Dutch roll’. This small deviation was expected and can also be solved, says Vos. Also the landing turned out to be difficult. The aircraft did not land on the rear wheels but on the nose wheel, which broke off. “There was some damage, but nothing to worry about

With the five-minute test flight, the TU Delft team wanted to show that the Flying-V is not just a ‘paper airplane’, but that the concept can really work. The developers also wanted to collect flight data. “We can use that for the rest of this project,” says Vos. “There’s still a lot to be done

Cynical reactions

Also KLM top man Pieter Elbers was at the presentation of the test flight results. KLM supports the Flying-V project, as does aircraft manufacturer Airbus. The economical aircraft is an important step towards more sustainable aviation, Elbers thinks. “When we announced the project last year in Seoul, there were still some cynical reactions. Some said: we’ve seen this before, this is just a PR stunt by KLM. But now here we are, with all the progress that has been made. It’s really exciting.”

Airbus also looks with interest at the developments in Delft. The design offers many new possibilities, says manager Daniel Reckzeh. But it remains to be seen whether we will ever be able to take off in a flying wing. Even if the development of the aircraft continues, it could still take decades before real flying V’s fly around.