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Tomorrow’s Jets Could Fly with Flower Power

Due to rising oil prices and environmental concerns, the aviation industry is now looking at many biofuels as alternatives to petroleum derived fuel. NASA researchers conducted a series of test flights recently that proved a commercial jet can fly safely with a blend of jet fuel made from Camelina plant oil.

WCVE Public Radio’s Charles Fishburne has more in this Science Matters report.

NASA researchers have just completed a series of flights that studied the effects of alternate biofuel on engine performance, emissions and aircraft-generated contrails at altitudes typically flown by commercial airliners.


(Video footage provided by NASA)

The Alternative Fuel Effects on Contrails and Cruise Emissions (ACCESS) experiment involved flying a NASA Dryden Flight Research Center DC-8 airplane as high as 39,000 feet while an instrumented HU-25C Guardian aircraft, based at NASA’s Langley Research Center, trailed behind at distances ranging from 300 feet to more than 10 miles. The team measured exhaust composition and contrail characteristics depending on fuel type, plume duration and atmospheric conditions.

“We spent several weeks during late winter when contrails are most likely to form over NASA Dryden in California,” said Bruce Anderson, ACCESS project scientist. “That way we could take advantage of Dryden’s restricted air-space to fly in close formation without interfering with commercial air traffic. This let us vary aircraft separation to examine the changes that occur in exhaust plume composition as they mix in the air. It also allowed us to study the role aircraft soot emissions and conditions play in the formation and growth of contrail ice particles.”

During the flights, the DC-8’s four CFM56 engines were powered by conventional JP-8 jet fuel, or a 50-50 blend of JP-8 and an alternative fuel of hydro-processed esters and fatty acids (HEFA) produced from camelina plant oil. More than a dozen instruments mounted on the Guardian jet characterized the soot, gases and ice particles streaming from the DC-8.

ACCESS follows a pair of Alternative Aviation Fuel Experiment studies conducted in 2009 and 2011. Ground-based instruments measured the DC-8’s exhaust emissions as the aircraft burned alternative fuels while parked on a ramp in California.

A second phase of ACCESS flights is planned for 2014. It will capitalize on lessons learned from this year’s flights and include a more extensive set of measurements.

The ACCESS study is a joint project involving researchers at Dryden, NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and NASA Langley.

Want to know more? Go to NASA Aeronautics Research and Sustainable Oils

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