Drag Prediction for Supersonic Hydrogen-Fueled Airliners

Author(s) : Alexander H. Forbes, Anant Pately, Narayanan Komerathz

Volume & Issue : VOLUME 1 / 2016 , ISSUE 1

Page(s) : 8-21


Improved payload ratio more than compensates for the drag penalty associated with the low density of liquid hydrogen for supersonic airliner operation, if this factor is included at the conceptual design stage. With rising costs of hydrocarbon fuels, and carbon emissions, and the dramatic changes in the demographics and economics of global demand for long-distance air travel, supersonic hydrogen-fueled airliners are becoming viable. Conservative arguments suggest that with a suitable cruise Mach number and altitude, hydrogen-fueled airliners can achieve seatmile costs. The fleet size and number of routes are much larger than those projected in the 1980s when the market was restricted to western hemisphere transoceanic executive travel. Radically different configurations may be appropriate. Estimation of cruise wave drag is a crucial but cumbersome step in the conceptual design iteration for such configurations. A convenient alternative is sought for wave drag optimization, by integrating popular computer-aided design software with the drag estimation process. As a first step the paper uses Mach cone intersections rather than the classical technique of integrating over flat planes at different orientations. This method is validated against classical results for non-lifting bodies and then against wing-body configurations, and shown to yield accuracies similar to those of the classical flat Mach plane method, with substantially lower cost and effort.


wave drag, supersonic airliner, Sears Haack


[1] Forbes, A., Patel, A., Cone, C., Valdez, P., and
Komerath, N., “A New Look at Supersonic Airliners,"
Proceedings of theIMETI Conference, July 2010.
[2] Kulfan, B., “Reynolds numbers considerations for
supersonic flight," American Institute for Aeronautics
and Astronautics32nd AIAA Fluid Dynamics
Meeting, St. Louis,MO, 2002.
Drag Prediction for Supersonic Hydrogen-Fueled Airliners
[3] Heppenheimer, T., “The Concorde Supersonic
Transport," US Centennial of Flight Commission,
o53. htm. Viewed, Vol. 12, 2009, pp. 30.
[4] Satyapal, S., Petrovic, J., Read, C., Thomas, G.,
and Ordaz, G., “The US Department of Energy's
National HydrogenStorage Project: Progress towards
meeting hydrogen-powered vehicle requirements,"
Catalysis Today, Vol. 120, No. 3-4, 2007, pp. 246-
[5] Nikolic, V. and Jumper, E., “Zero-lift wave drag
calculation using supersonic area rule and its
modifications," American Institute for Aeronautics
and Astronautics, 42ndAIAA Aerospace Sciences
Meeting and Exhibit, 2004.
[6] West, R., “Fallacies of a hydrogen economy: a
critical analysis of hydrogen production and
utilization," Journal of Energy Resources Technology,
Vol. 126, 2004, pp. 249.
[7] Maniaci, D., “Relative Performance of a Liquid
Hydrogen-Fueled Commercial Transport," American
Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics 46th AIAA
Aerospace Sciences Meeting and Exhibit, 2008.
[8] Von Karman, T. and d'Italia, R. A., “The problem
of resistance in compressible fluids”,
RealeAccademiad'Italia, 1935.
[9] Whitcomb, R. and Center, N. L. R., A study of the
zero-lift drag-rise characteristics of wing-body
combinations near thespeed of sound, National
Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, 1952.
[10] Whitcomb, R. and Sevier, J., “A supersonic area
rule and an application to the design of a wing-body
combination with high lift-drag ratios," NASA, Report
No. 19980223605, 1960.
[11] Sheppard, L., “Methods for Determining the
Wave Drag of Non-Lifting Wing Body
Combinations," ARCR &M,Vol. 3077, 1957.
[12] Harris, R., Aeronautics, U. S. N., and
Administration, S., “An analysis and correlation of
aircraft wave drag”, NationalTechnical Information
Service, 1964.
[13] Jameson, A., “Computational aerodynamics for
aircraft design," Science, Vol. 245, No. 4916, 1989,
pp. 361.
[14] Jones, R. and for Aeronautics, U. S. N. A. C.,
“Theory of wing-body drag at supersonic speeds”.
National Advisory
Committee for Aeronautics, 1956.
[15] Storey, B., “Computing Fourier series and power
spectrum with Matlab,"
[16] Rallabhandi, S. and Mavris, D., “An unstructured
wave drag code for preliminary design of future
supersonic aircraft,"Proceedings of the 33rd Fluid
dynamics conference and exhibit, American Institute
for Aeronautics and Astronautics, 2003.