ecoDemonstrator Tests the Technologies of Tomorrow

ecoDemonstrator Tests the Technologies of Tomorrow
ecoDemonstrator Tests the Technologies of Tomorrow

If the special paint job – the bright green ecoDemonstrator leaf and logo – isn't a dead giveaway that one Boeing 737 aircraft is different than the rest of our fleet, just take a look inside. In July 2011, we committed one of our brand new 737-800s to our partners at Boeing to serve as a flying testbed for environmentally progressive technologies that will potentially alter the way we fly. A year later, the ecoDemonstrator plane took to the skies above Glasgow, Mont., for in-depth flight testing.

"The American Airlines 737 ecoDemonstrator offers significant developments to help our industry be a better steward of natural resources and provide a quieter operation for our communities," said Captain Brian Will, Director – Airspace Modernization and Advanced Technologies.

The aircraft is fitted with a suite of experimental technologies with the goal of reducing fuel consumption and community noise.

  • Adaptive wing trailing edges that can morph to accommodate a particular phase of flight. Benefits include reduced fuel consumption by making the wing more aerodynamically efficient; and reduced takeoff noise by improving the plane's climb performance.
  • A variable area fan nozzle where the engine exhaust area can increase by up to ten percent to accommodate different phases of flight. Benefits include reduced fuel consumption by optimizing fan airflow during takeoff and landing; and reduced takeoff noise by slowing the fan exhaust airflow, quieting the engine.
  • Active engine vibration control that uses a series of actuators to cancel the vibrations from the engine, reducing noise. Benefits include reduced maintenance costs due to a decrease in engine balancing frequency; and a more comfortable, quieter ride for customers.
  • A regenerative hydrogen fuel cell to provide electricity for airplane systems as well as providing energy storage during periods of low electrical demand. Benefits include reduced fuel consumption; a step toward zero emission power generation; and enabling of alternative fuels.
  • Flight trajectory optimization and information management that enables more fuel-efficient in-flight rerouting around weather and other constraints. Benefits include the ability to optimally change routes in-flight using real-time graphical data displayed on tablet devices for improved fuel-efficiency; and services such as airplane health monitoring and flight data recording streaming via broadband communication.

In support of these environmental objectives, a biofuel made from recycled cooking oil was used during the flights. This type of fuel generally has a 60 to 80 percent reduction in life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions and would contribute greatly to our larger goal of reducing our carbon footprint.

During Washington, D.C., Aviation Week in September, Boeing hosted an event to showcase the ecoDemonstrator program. Representatives from Boeing and American's Environmental team and Flight boasted to special guests about the program, offering tours of the aircraft as it was parked on the ramp.

"Seeing the extraordinary interest of senior FAA officials in the 737 ecoDemonstrator program was very encouraging for the future of this program and also for NextGen," said Captain Will. "The U.S. public is demanding that we operate our airplanes in an environmentally-friendly manner, and both American Airlines and Boeing are pioneers of best-in-class manufacturing and operational implementations. Additionally, our pioneering efforts for advanced communication, navigation and surveillance helped form the framework for the eventual evolution to what is now called 'NextGen.'"

The ecoDemonstrator program is a multi-year program that is partially funded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) through its Continuous Lower Energy Emissions noise (CLEEN) program. Under this program, Boeing will test different environmentally progressive technologies over the next few years.

Prior to deliver to American for regular use, all test equipment was removed and the plane was returns to our normal configuration. And although it will look like an ordinary plane on the outside and inside, we'll always know that we were the first commercial airline to help test these technologies.