This is NOT Another Article about Kanye West.
By: Amanda Menard
If you’ve caught any current news since last week we’re sure you’ve seen the highlights of Kanye West’s lunch meeting with the president. Among many ideas, he presented photos of an aircraft concept which he referred to as “iPlane 1,” and touched on the country’s need to be at the very forefront of manufacturing innovation by looking at the profound talent that exists in the people around us every day- at least that’s what this writer was able to extrapolate after watching the full exchange on YouTube courtesy of C-SPAN. But when Kanye unlocked his phone, what he actually presented were images from Industrial Designer Shabtai Hirshberg’s 2012 Master’s thesis posted on Behance.net under the title “2012 Redesign of a Commercial Aircraft for 2030.” Hirshberg presented the concept to complete his MFA at College for Creative Studies in Detroit.
Now here is where things went awry, as they tend to do in just about every story we see that involves any person of notable fame. This story has played out like a game of telephone and we are here to set the record straight: None of this is Kanye’s idea and Apple is not currently involved with iPlane 1 in any capacity.
Here at SME we are always looking toward the future, so we couldn’t help but get excited about exploring a new concept even if it was called to attention by a man made famous for his album ‘The College Dropout.’ After all, a quick read through classic works such as Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ stands to prove that at least some of today’s science fiction could be tomorrow’s reality. Although now living back in Israel, Hirshberg was quick to respond to a request for a brief interview. Here’s the inside scoop:
AeroDef: Before we get into the specifics of your design, we’d first like to know; how did Kanye West get a hold of it?
Shabtai Hirshberg: I am not sure. After I posted the project on Behance, it was pulled and copied many times over to several different websites, but I suspect it came from there.
AeroDef: Now to the nitty-gritty details! Can you summarize the concept for us?
Shabtai Hirshberg: It has a lot of different attributes, but I think the main thing is that it changes the paradigm of the way flight is today. I was working on this project and what I had in front of me was the inefficiencies of flight. At the time I began, the most recent numbers from 2010 projected that the number of commercial aircraft movements were projected to double by 2030, due to global middle class rise, especially in the developing countries. I set out to create a solution that could not just accommodate a higher rate of air travel, but improve the entire process at the same time.
AeroDef: What are some of the problems you addressed with your design?
Shabtai Hirshberg: There are four key things; 1: comfort 2: configuration 3: fuel and emissions, and 4: lift. If you look at an aircraft today it is basically a pipe that is weighing it down and you have the wings that generate the lift. Amongst others (such as American Engineer Vincent Burnelli’s high-lift design ‘Burnelli Cby-3’), I drew inspiration from NASA’s project; ‘Lifting Bodies,’ where the fuselage is generating lift. I came up with the idea for the whole aircraft to create lift and designed it as an aerofoil. This results in several additional benefits; first is the obvious higher lift. A wider body and inner space enabling shorter wing span- providing more room for aircraft at the airport . The wider fuselage also enables amphibious landing, thus paving the way to more airports with less construction needed and a much safer possibility of landing in case of emergency. The aerofoil fuselage shape also enables creating a ramp entrance at the back trailing edge eliminating the common bottle neck situation when boarding and de–boarding.
This is where we challenge our community to pioneer materials, manufacturing, and structural advancements that will enable us to pressurize a non-tube shape. When compared to a traditional aircraft, such as a 787, this design takes up less space at an airport while creating more space for passengers. It also stands to decrease boarding time by 75% and reduce noise pollution using a quieter turbo-prop, ultra-high bypass hybrid engine that is also shielded by the wings. The hybrid engines would use less fuel, lowering the main overhead cost per flight, and thrust vectoring would reduce initial manufacturing costs. With overall lower overhead costs, ticket prices may decrease as the number of travelers increases and everybody wins.
AeroDef: So more leg room and less instances of other passengers kicking the back of our seat? Sign us up! What other improvements are accomplished by your design?
Shabtai Hirshberg: A big emphasis was placed on STOL (short takeoff and landing) capabilities in order to enable use of smaller airstrips taking the load off the big air hubs. Laminar flow control by boundary-layer suction will assist low stall speeds and lift. Engine thrust over top trailing edge is also a big contribution to STOL. Together with the high lift fuselage this would also lead to an estimated significant reduction in fuel consumption. These improvements along with the expected advancements in materials, chemistry, and composites such as the “glass top” (which is a smart composite laminate containing electro-chroming for blocking sunlight), transparent infrared solar panels, and thermoplastic composites stands to improve the overall cost and efficiency of air travel. In addition, the controlling surfaces on the wings would be advanced morphing surfaces, similar to the way we move muscles allowing better control. The aircraft would encounter less turbulence by using electroactive polymers AKA artificial muscles to move “flaps.”
AeroDef: How does iPlane 1 operate?
Shabtai Hirshberg: One scenario would be takeoff from a short, local airfield strip and water landing at a waterfront airport. This airport would need no runways, just a terminal hub.
AeroDef: Seeing as you currently have a design for a twin-engine business jet reaching stages of development, what’s stopping this concept from advancing toward reality?
Shabtai Hirshberg: There are still many advancements to be made in manufacturing materials, namely we would need advanced composites fused with metals.
AeroDef: We see major advancements happening in additive manufacturing every day. Do you feel these materials and processes could be a possibility during our lifetime?
Shabtai Hirshberg: Absolutely, technologies are developing rapidly. This is also what I see as my mission being a designer to push the boundaries and sustain an ecosystem where communities like SME are constantly challenged to advance technology. That is how futuristic shows like star trek inspired yesterday’s kids and today’s adults. Additive manufacturing specifically in advanced materials will allow for accurate tailor-made variations in materials and thicknesses providing smart solutions and fast production times.
AeroDef: Wow, this must be a lot to take in. What is going through your mind? Is there any message you would like to send?
Shabtai Hirshberg: I would like to thank Kanye West for putting my work in front of the president. It’s not every day that your work makes it into the oval office! I would be honored to work and develop this vision to change air travel from concept to reality with any interested party. Developing transportation In general and aviation in particular are my greatest passion.
Be sure to check out Shabtai Hirshberg’s original design on Behance where you will find renderings along with more details
Shabtai Hirshberg is the Owner at DS – Automotive, Aircraft, Product and Industrial Design based in Detroit and Israel. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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