Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session

Labs: 1 session / week, 2 hours / session


16.885 or permission of instructor


Three hours / week = Lectures
Two hours / week = Laboratory
Seven hours / week = Preparatory

Course Description

Subject addresses the architecting of air transportation systems. Focuses on the conceptual phase of product definition include technical, economic, market, environmental, regulatory, legal, manufacturing, and societal factors. Subject centers on a realistic system case study and includes a number of lectures from industry and government. Past examples included the Very Large Transport Aircraft, a Supersonic Business Jet and a Next Generation Cargo System. Subject identifies the critical system level issues and analyzes them in depth via student team projects and individual assignments. The overall goal of the semester is to produce a business plan and a system specifications document that can be used to assess candidate systems.

Spring 2004 Plan

Air freight represents the fastest growing segment of commercial air transportation, with a projected annual growth rate around 6%. The largest market opportunity is for intercontinental transport, particularly from Asian markets. Currently shippers have two choices for transoceanic freight: relatively fast but expensive air freight or relatively slow but inexpensive sea transport. At present, approximately 99% of the freight (by volume) is carried by ships. If the top 1 or 2% of this demand could be captured, it would represent a huge increase in the airfreight market. Such an increase would require much larger cargo capacity than current aircraft can support, more competitive prices, and likely new system concepts.

U.S. military operations continue to respond to international threats, yet need to rely on continental United States (CONUS) basing. The current system requires substantial tanker support, often from non-CONUS bases, to reach global targets. Recent studies show that the true cost of a gallon of gas delivered by a tanker can approach $1XX, while the same gallon of gas pumped on the ground in CONUS is $1.XX. There is a growing need for long range, fuel efficient transport of military cargo which can rely on CONUS basing.

Various concepts are being explored to meet the growing demand for commercial and military cargo aircraft. These include large conventional aircraft such as the A-380, the Boeing Blended Wing Body (BWB) configuration, and Wing in Ground Effect (WIG) aircraft such as the Pelican, and lighter than air vehicles. A possible concept which remains largely unexplored is the exploitation of formation flight for conventional aircraft. Flight tests conducted within the past two years have demonstrated 12-18% fuel flow reduction for a trailing F/A-18 aircraft in a two aircraft formation. Various calculations show fuel flow reductions of 15-20% are likely for small formations. Such a large improvement in aircraft efficiency opens the possibility of radically new capability for long haul cargo aircraft.

It is expected that autonomous or semi-autonomous systems will be required to eliminate pilot workload. Systems have been demonstrated which allow two aircraft to fly in tight formations using instrumentation. Such technologies might be applicable to formation flight for other applications than cargo transport; e.g. formation landing, UAVs, long endurance high altitude missions.

The Spring 2004 16.886 class will investigate the possibility of exploiting formation flight for significant new capability for long haul commercial and military cargo. All aspects related to system concepts should be explored including, but not limited to, the number and placement of aircraft in a formation, mix of aircraft size and payload / fuel fractions, aircraft and formation stability and control, degree of autonomy, concepts for formation rendezvous and dispersal, economic, safety, environmental factors, etc.. The size of the class will determine the number of topics that will be explored in depth.

The final deliverables for the class will be a written report and accompanying briefing which lays out the feasibility of formation flight for long haul cargo aircraft, candidate system specifications, and gaps in knowledge needed to realize the proposed concept(s). The audiences for these deliverables are decision makers in industry and government, and the engineering community as represented by an AIAA technical conference. The report should include a one page executive summary, a main body of a length and content suitable for a conference paper, and appendices as needed for detailed analysis.

The class will be organized into a single integrated program team tasked with developing the final deliverable by the end of the semester. During the first three weeks, students will individually review the existing literature and other sources of information in one area relevant to the class project (e.g. formation flight aerodynamics, commercial freight markets, competing system concepts, etc.). This phase will end with a short oral presentation by each student to inform the rest of the class about the body of knowledge. Overlapping this phase and continuing on beyond, the class will work as a team to develop system concepts and the supporting analysis or rationale. An oral System Concept Review will be presented before spring break. At this point several system concepts may be reviewed, and the most promising of them will be selected for further analysis. Several weeks after spring break, a more detailed Preliminary System Design will be presented. This will afford the faculty and class an opportunity to assess progress and give input to proposed system concept and system level requirements. The final weeks of the semester will concentrate on finalizing the proposed system concept and system level requirements, and preparing the written and oral deliverables due at the end of the semester.

It is possible that some students in a two-quarter class at Stanford University will address a detailed level preliminary trade study design at the vehicle level. Collectively the MIT and Stanford students could form a loosely coupled single team executing conceptual and preliminary design trade studies to arrive at a viable and feasible system and vehicle concept. Various mechanisms will be established to enable interchange of information such as Video links of Reviews, e-mail, on-line chat rooms, etc.

Additional Information

Hardcopies of lectures will be distributed at the start of each class.

Course faculty do not have regularly scheduled office hours and are available as needed. Contact them directly in person or by e-mail to schedule a time to meet.

Deliverables and Grading

Individual Oral Presentation15%Individual
System Concept Review15%Team
Preliminary System Design15%Team
Final Oral Presentation20%Team
Final Written Report 25%Team
End of Course Interview10%Individual