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Transportation

Airbus Patent Shows Modular, Removable Aircraft Cabins (gizmag.com) 96

Zothecula writes: According to a recently-granted patent, Airbus is exploring the potential of creating a new breed of versatile, modular aircraft that would see detachable passenger cabins slot into a hole in an aeroplane's fuselage. The concept has the potential to revolutionize air travel, while providing significant savings for airlines by reducing the time that planes spend idle on the ground.
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Airbus Patent Shows Modular, Removable Aircraft Cabins

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  • by hcs_$reboot ( 1536101 ) on Thursday December 03, 2015 @04:11AM (#51047663)
    Flying with incompetent pilots [slashdot.org], the cabin may automatically detach, open a bunch of parachutes and land smoothly somewhere. Makes sense.
    • Re:Possible use (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 03, 2015 @04:48AM (#51047761)

      Well, that's one way to make there are no surviving witnesses: Drop a structural part of the airplane with the aerodynamics of a wall at a few hundred miles an hour.

    • ...only to quickly submerge in the frigid ocean waters...

      Hey, is that a shark fin?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      Also if the passengers board the cabin section before it is docked with the airplane this could facilitate the passengers being sent to the wrong destination rather than just their luggage as is the norm now.
      • as is the norm now.

        Yes but you feel so relieved when your luggage finally reaches the correct destination, a couple of days later.

      • I'm now imagining a Rube Goldberg system of belts and rollers that would be used at an airport to move around whole cabins of people to airplane chassis, and giggling.

        So how would the airport personnel get away with running a cabin of people underneath the baggage train, like they do with luggage?

    • Flying with incompetent pilots [slashdot.org], the cabin may automatically detach, open a bunch of parachutes and land smoothly somewhere. Makes sense.

      Yeah, while overflying the Donbas.

    • The technology already sort of exists. There are cargo planes that can lift up the nose or tail, and then have freight containers loaded. This gets around the air frame structural problem that some have noted.

      I envisioned a "passenger" module that would be slid out once the plane landed, and a "pre-loaded" (with passengers) module would be slid in. This avoids the unload/clean/load time of turning around a plane. If it takes 20 minutes to turn-around a plane (which is pretty fast), the module approach could

      • It's existed for a long time: here is a photo of the SIV-B booster for Apollo 7 being delivered to the Johnson Space Center [nasa.gov] from the "Super Guppy" cargo craft NASA uses.

      • Even more interesting, this would allow airplanes to be reconfigured quickly. A passenger plane could become a cargo plane in a few minutes just by sliding out the passenger compartment and sliding in a cargo one. They could also have different passenger compartments with different seating configurations, and also compartments that are part passenger part cargo for those legs where the plane would otherwise fly with most of the seats empty. Hopefully benefits like this would get the attention of the airl

  • by MrKaos ( 858439 ) on Thursday December 03, 2015 @04:27AM (#51047697) Journal

    Virgil, did you lock the passenger cabin in?

  • by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Thursday December 03, 2015 @04:50AM (#51047773) Journal

    The idea of detachable cabins is obvious: I've heard it discussed before.

    What's distinctly not obvious is how to make it structurally sound and lightweight. The problem with detachable cabins is the attachment/detachment mechanisms introduce weight and both the plane without the cabin and the cabin itself (probably to a lesser extent) both need to be structurally sound, so one is more or less doubling up on the number of structural components.

    One also has to get the detach-remove-slot-in-reattach new cabin turnaround significantly faster than what it takes to clean a plane in order to offset the inevitable extra costs. The turnaround time for cleaning short haul planes is already pretty fast.

    Long haul planes have a substantially longer turnaround time, so it could help there. However, long haul flights are a bit variable in time, so if you squeeze the expected turnaround time too far, any delays will cascade as there's no buffer. Also, longer turn around times are still a small fraction of the total journey time, so even dropping it to zero wouldn't have a vast increase in the number of flights per day.

    Oh and of course there's the extra ground crew needed to operate the attachment/detachment thing, versus extra crew to turnaround the plane faster.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      You know those stasis pods they have in sci-fi films? Airlines should use those. A coffin sized pod where you lie down, put on a mask that feeds in some kind of gas to make you unconscious and then load you in like cargo. 12 hours later you wake up refreshed at your destination.

      I'd sign a wavier for that.

    • by Viol8 ( 599362 )

      "so one is more or less doubling up on the number of structural components."

      Probably even more than that. An airliners strength is mainly in the circular shape of its fuselage. Take that away and you've essentially converted it into a flatbed and now you've got a long floppy centre bit thats going to need a fuckton of re-inforcement to make it as strong as a normal aircraft. Until someone can manufacture structural beams out of carbon nanotubes/unobtanium [delete as applicable] which is incredibly strong an

    • by Bongo ( 13261 )

      It's a problem that's already been solved.

      http://starbase79.com/images/1999/Eagle5.JPG [starbase79.com]

  • It will never fly (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Michael Woodhams ( 112247 ) on Thursday December 03, 2015 @05:02AM (#51047809) Journal

    I predict this won't happen. The cost of the system, in weight, complexity, ground support and possibly safety I think will outweigh the benefits for all but a few niche markets, which wouldn't be able to support the massive investment required to bring it to market.

    A rather smaller example was that Boeing tried to sell the idea of 777s with folding wing tips, so they could use then-current terminal gates (for which the 777 wingspan was too large.) Nobody took them up on it.

    However, I am not an airliner engineer. I'd be happy to be proved wrong.

    • Never say never. I bet this could happen as it has tremendous advantages. But the world of aviation evolves slowly, and this will be tested a lot before flying commercially. 2020 maybe.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        That's less than 1500 days from today. Absolutely not.

      • This won't happen any time in the next 20 years - and certainly not by 2020. It is going to take Boeing the next two years to certify relatively minor changes to the 737 for the MAX program, and thats mainly engine related - designing and certifying a detachable passenger cabin will take much much longer than that, especially as the regulations for it would have to be set before the certification could be completed.

      • Consider the Airbus A350: First proposed to customers September 2004. Launched Dec 2006 (i.e. Airbus commits to building it.) First flight June 2013. First commercial service Jan 2015. Airliners have long gestation periods. If I'm wrong (which I'd be happy to be) and this idea really does have wings, it still very unlikely to fly before 2030.

    • Re:It will never fly (Score:5, Informative)

      by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <richardprice@@@gmail...com> on Thursday December 03, 2015 @05:28AM (#51047859)

      A rather smaller example was that Boeing tried to sell the idea of 777s with folding wing tips, so they could use then-current terminal gates (for which the 777 wingspan was too large.) Nobody took them up on it.

      That idea has made a comeback with the 777X series, but with a much better design - the reason it failed before was because it added a lot of weight, as the fold was inboard of the ailerons, meaning that there had to be a complicated system for attaching and detaching the control mechanisms which was heavy. The new design is outboard of the ailerons, meaning its just dumb wing and thus the locking mechanism is a lot lighter.

    • The point is not to actually make it . . . the point is to patent it. So if some small, innovative start up actually does build such a critter . . . well, Airbus will demand royalties from them.

      Sad, but this is the state of the patent system right now.

      • While I agree with the sentiment, who exactly is the innovative startup that could pull off not only getting a passenger jet approved, but also convince airlines to buy it and airports to completely redesign their terminals? While it is a tech field, aerospace doesn't really work like that. How long did it take for Honda to get their jet into the marketplace, again?
      • So long as the small, innovative startup adds the words "on the internet" to the patent, they should be ok.
    • I can't imagine that this will be more than a way of re-balancing the proportions between cargo and passenger aircraft for airlines serving both markets, and that re-balancing would take place over weeks rather than individual flights or days. (And if it takes place over weeks, then flying the plane to a maintenance location to switch modules would be the practice.)

      I've no involvement in aviation, other than curiosity (I fly, on average, once every 10 years.) However, the following thoughts do come to

    • by ksheff ( 2406 )
      It would be easier to create "passenger pods" that could be slid into existing cargo aircraft.
  • The main reason they're doing this?

    So they can cram even more people in coach. Because if you can swap out the passenger accommodation, everywhere on the plane can be coach.

    I'm guessing they're not seeing so much success with their programs like asking people to upgrade to "premium coach" (5cm extra legroom) for $30.

    • by Lagmo ( 972467 )

      The main reason they're doing this?

      So they can cram even more people in coach. Because if you can swap out the passenger accommodation, everywhere on the plane can be coach.

      I'm guessing they're not seeing so much success with their programs like asking people to upgrade to "premium coach" (5cm extra legroom) for $30.

      On my flight from Atlanta to Amsterdam back in January(Boing 777-ER), Delta wanted more like $130 for 'premium coach', had it been $30 i might actually have considered it. Now that we got the A380 going to Copenhagen i might be able to try two story cattle class on future trips, no doubt having any kind of blood circulation in your lower extremities will be $150 by then heh

    • So they can cram even more people in coach. Because if you can swap out the passenger accommodation, everywhere on the plane can be coach.

      No, they're trying to reduce turnaround time by decoupling the boarding and unboarding stage from when the airplane has to be on the ground. Basically pre-board passengers into the passenger compartment. When the plane arrives, while you're refueling it you simply swap out passenger compartments. It's what they do with luggage - you put the luggage into big baggage co

      • The idea could be taken so much further....

        rather than landing the plane, just drop the passenger module(s) into a magnetic decelerator (like a railgun, but backwards) at the airport, meanwhile use another cannon to launch the next passenger module (and perhaps a full fuel tank) to dock with the plane. Now the plane never has to decelerate or land, it can be built just to cruise round and round the world at Mach 0.9. No heavy landing gear, much smaller engines,.... Of course the aim and timing on the magn

  • You lost what? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Riiiiight cause losing baggages was not enough of a skill. You're now going to lose passengers,

    Hey Dave where does POD4K go.
    It goes to tarmac B4
    Before what?
    Fuck it , i'll just put it here.

  • I had this idea 30 years ago.

    The plane I imagined consisted of a cockpit, airfoils, and a 'spine' that ran the length of the plane onto which modular, self-contained passenger or freight modules could be attached. The outer skin of the modules would form the surface of the 'fuselage' for drag reduction. In my design the passengers could board their particular module essentially in the terminal, and with some clever routing information modules could be swapped from plane to plane until their passengers reach

    • You and fifty million other people. I thing I saw the same thing from a reprint of a really old Popular Mechanics. I think it was an article that was published during the 1950s, so it was definitely before I was born.
      • Your 50 million estimate is probably spot-on. I didn't say my idea was unique, just old and obvious (making it not patent-worthy).

  • The concept has the potential to revolutionize air travel, while providing significant savings for airlines by reducing the time that planes spend idle on the ground.

    The whole crux of this invention is to reduce idle time of the plane, proper. But this is poor communication by TFA because it does not mention how much idle time is wasted.

  • If they can keep the cost and weight penalty low, this could work. Planes (especially short-haul planes) currently spend a significant percentage of the day loading and unloading. If they can cut that down by simply slotting in pre-loaded passengers and bags, this could speed around turnaround times enough for this to make sense.

  • can be found in Lord of the Flies by W Golding
    We had to read that in school many decades ago

  • Now they don't have to tie up the whole plane to keep passengers on the tarmac for hours on end. They can package them in a pod and abandon them a few yards away from the terminal.
  • Finally an article for the guy that keeps saying fill in the blank is for cows...moooo and he didn't comment. How disappointing. Could have mod it funny and I have points!

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