Will nuclear energy ever be clean and safe enough to power a commercial airliner? Perhaps low-energy nuclear reaction (LENR) technology would do the trick - if it can be made to work. You can read about LENR in Aviation Week & Space Technology
's Imagine the Future
Assuming nuclear energy could be made clean and safe enough, then some interesting approaches to air transport could emerge that would take advantage of the almost unlimited endurance of a nuclear-powered aircraft.
Over on Aviation Week
's technology blog Leading Edge
, we take a look at a work by Cranfield University's Bhupendra Khandelwal on an air transport model that combines nuclear-powered cruisers with chemical-powered short-range transports.Concept: Air Cruiser from ACARE's Out Of The Box study
The unmanned cruisers would take off from remote sites and continuously fly looping tracks that cross ocens and fly over major population centers. The short-range aircraft would carry passengers and cargo would fly up to the cruiser, land on a moving-belt runway, ride the cruiser to its destination, then fly down to land.
Khandelwal calculates that fuel savings over conventional chemical-fueled point-to-point air transport could be 40% for a 1,000km mission, rising to 85-90% for a 10,000km mission, when the cruise phase is much greater proportion of the flight.