Visionary or plane crazy? Airbus contest to decide

Thu May 7, 2009 1:42pm EDT
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By Tim Hepher

PARIS (Reuters) - Tourists heading south for the winter may be transported to their dream destination in windowless airliners flying in formation like geese if Airbus accepts the advice of tomorrow's potential aircraft engineers.

The European planemaker is offering 30,000 euros for the best idea drawn from proposals submitted by 2,350 students in 82 countries after launching a global competition for new concepts.

Airbus said on Thursday it had narrowed down the entries to five -- not all of which may at first glance appeal to the traveling public, but which a spokeswoman said could lead to useful ways of thinking about aircraft design and engineering.

The proposals include a suggestion from a Spanish university for a windowless cabin. Despite the impact on passengers who prefer a window seat, the designers have found that an aircraft constructed this way would be more eco-efficient, Airbus said.

Among the other finalists, an Australian team from the University of Queensland has suggested building some of the materials used in the cabin out of castor plant natural fibers.

A Czech proposal would use electric motors to taxi the airplane -- overcoming burning of jet fuel that the industry says costs billions of dollars and harms the environment -- and Singapore students want to tap solar power for electricity.

Perhaps the most revolutionary concept is a U.S. proposal by students from Stanford University to adapt the "V" formation used by geese and other migrating birds to fly long distances.

By slipstreaming behind the bird in front, the birds can save energy to fly further and take it in turns to lead.   Continued...

<p>Geese in flight in a file photo. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger</p>