Of course, all of these developments will undoubtedly lead to changes in the passengers’ in-flight experience. Catapult take-offs will likely mean passengers will be thrust back into their seats more firmly than happens now. Ultra-wide bodied planes will likely mean fewer window per seat for the occupants and their larger seat capacities could also lead to slower passenger-deplaning procedures both at the airport and in emergency landing situations. But there will also be benefits from these new wider spaces, which could, for example, accommodate large communal social spaces for kids more commonly found on cruise ships, whilst quiet electric engines could mean a good night’s sleep for travelers normally disturbed by the drone of turbine engines.
“Are the extra carrots in the new designs worth the extra effort and costs they entail?” asks Nasa’s Wahls. Only time will tell. Many of these concepts are just that: concepts that are destined never to become a reality. However, like concept cars that push what is technologically possible on the road, these craft will probably inform the design of future airliners.
So, when you gaze up at the skies in twenty years time, perhaps the airplane passing by will look different from those you grew up with after all.