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University of Greenwich scientists address evacuation concerns over futuristic ‘flying wing’ aircraft

University of Greenwich researchers will this week present details of how 'Flying Wing' passenger aircraft can be evacuated safely by over 1000 passengers.

Speaking at a conference on the future of aircraft design, Professor Ed Galea will explain how the university's Fire Safety Engineering Group has used innovative mathematical modelling techniques to overcome safety concerns about the radical new aircraft concept.

"With eight aisles, the 'flying wing' is almost as wide as it is long, making it more like a flying auditorium than a traditional tubular aircraft," says Professor Galea. "With a capacity of over 1000 passengers, it is significantly bigger than the largest passenger planes currently flying, compounding the evacuation challenges faced by its designers, including the industry benchmark 90 second evacuation certification trial."

The break-through is an important technological step in the development of this distinctive super-plane concept. With eight aisles and up to 20 exits on three sides, its futuristic 'delta' shape resembles a giant flying wing. While military variants of 'blended wing' aircraft technology, such as the US Stealth bombers, routinely take to the skies, they only carry a small crew and do not have to satisfy stringent commercial aviation safety regulations such as the 90 second evacuation certification test.

The University of Greenwich team drew on its world-leading expertise in aircraft evacuation and fire modelling to simulate how air passengers behave in a crisis, and how fire, smoke, toxic gases and heat spread through a burning aircraft. The challenges posed by the Flying Wing’s vast interior required major re-engineering of the team's aircraft evacuation model, airEXODUS. A sophisticated new version of the software was developed to predict how passengers behave in the new expansive layouts and interact with the large number of internal aisles to eventually find an exit and a way out. Evacuation trials using a large scale cabin mock-up and over 700 volunteers were used to verify that the new model made realistic predictions.

"We combined our fire simulation and passenger evacuation models to answer the fundamental question about this aircraft; can passengers and crew get out safely?" continues Professor Galea. “This type of safety analysis potentially goes far beyond traditional evacuation tests using volunteers. Embedding the experience of aviation accidents from around the world, it accounts for how real people react in a crisis by swapping aisles, climbing over seats, reacting to fire and smoke and so on."

Nick Davison | alfa
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