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Boeing has run an ecoDemonstrator Program since 2011 in cooperation with various US airlines and the FAA to test new eco technologies. The program has used other Boeing aircraft types and has used the 737 twice.
This article describes the 737 ecoDemonstrator programs.
*** Updated 14 Nov 2021 ***
Eco Demonstrator Summary
2021: 737-9 to be delivered to Alaska Airlines — 21 projects
• Identifying the optimal strategy to use commercial airliners to measure greenhouse gas emissions will help the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration improve its climate modeling and long-term forecasting. • Low-profile anti-collision light designed to fit mostly within the fuselage—topped with a low-profile cover—protects the light better, improves maintenance reliability and reduces drag to improve fuel efficiency. • Cabin interior sidewalls made from recycled carbon composite fiber can reduce noise and waste going to landfills.
2020: 787-10 owned by Etihad Airways — nine projects
• The most comprehensive aeroacoustic research ever conducted on a commercial airliner in collaboration with NASA. • Landing gear modified to be quieter by Safran Landing Systems. • Operational efficiency project enables pilots, air traffic controllers and an airline’s operations center to share digital information simultaneously to optimize routing and minimize holding at the arrival airport. This enhances safety by reducing workload and radio frequency congestion, minimizes flight time for airline efficiency and passenger satisfaction, and improves airspace usage to accommodate future growth. • Portable ultraviolet wand disinfects high-touch and hard to clean surfaces (such as flight deck control panels) to enhance passenger and crew safety.
2019: 777-200 owned by Boeing — 53 projects
• Shape memory alloys developed in collaboration with NASA enable vortex generators to move based on the temperature. The small fins on the airplane’s wings raise up during takeoff and landing to improve airflow, then retract during cruise when they’re not needed to reduce drag, improve fuel efficiency and lower emissions. • Electronic flight bag application uses next-generation communications to automatically reroute an airplane when weather conditions warrant. • Operational efficiency project enables pilots, air traffic controllers and an airline’s operations center to share digital information simultaneously to optimize routing and enhance safety by reducing workload and radio frequency congestion. • Boeing’s self-disinfecting lavatory uses ultraviolet light to disinfect all surfaces, killing 99.9% of germs in about three seconds after every use. The lavatory also includes a UV sanitizing system for the sink faucet and a moisture-absorbing floor made from recycled carbon composite material. • Galleys equipped with sensors can help cabin crews locate catering items faster and enable airlines to better manage their inventory by using data analytics. This can significantly reduce waste — particularly on international flights where regulations require the disposal of any food remaining onboard after arrival.
2018: 777 Freighter owned by FedEx Express — 37 projects
• Surface Operations Collision Awareness System (SOCAS) uses optical and radar sensors on the airplane to detect obstacles (other aircraft, ground vehicles, buildings). • FLYHT Aerospace Solutions’ Automated Flight Information Reporting System (AFIRS) provides tracking, distress and data-streaming capabilities from flight data recorders; tested in collaboration with Embraer. • Several flights use 100 percent sustainable aviation fuel — a first for a commercial airliner — to reduce carbon emissions and assess performance. • Manufacturing byproducts reused as high-value materials for fittings replacing titanium alloy (Ti64) with over 75% recycled content.
2016: E170 owned by Embraer — six projects
• Ice-phobic paint improves safety and reduces drag. • Wireless measurement of airflow over the surface of the wing (boundary layer). • Wing slat cove fillers that reduce noise. • Air data measurement system using light distancing and ranging (LiDAR). • Sustainable aviation fuel sourced from Brazilian sugarcane.
2015: 757 owned by the aircraft finance division of Stifel — 20 projects
• Robust wing designs that enable natural laminar flow and improved aerodynamic efficiency: o Krueger shield to protect the leading edge of the wing from insects. o “Bug-phobic” coatings that can reduce drag from insect residue (in cooperation with NASA). • Active flow control to improve airflow over the rudder to potentially improve its aerodynamic efficiency by more than 15% and allow for a smaller vertical tail design in the future (in cooperation with NASA). • Utilized 5% blend of renewable diesel to support ongoing industry efforts to approve this sustainable fuel for commercial aviation • Dismantled and recycled the 757 using environmental best practices. About 90% of the airplane was reused or recycled (in cooperation with Stifel, the Aircraft Fleet Recycling Association and an airplane demolition company).
2014: 787-8 Dreamliner owned by Boeing — 35 projects
• Fuel efficiency and smaller noise footprint: o Aerodynamic and flight control improvements. o Advanced wing coatings to reduce ice accumulation. o Software applications and connectivity technologies that can improve flight planning, fuel-load optimization, in-flight routing and landing. • Airborne Spacing for Terminal Arrival Routes (ASTAR) system helps achieve precise spacing between aircraft during approaches (in cooperation with NASA). • Airplane connectivity enhancements: o Touch-screen displays on the flight deck. o Wireless sensors that can reduce wiring, reducing weight and saving fuel. o Outer wing access doors made from recycled 787 carbon fiber. • Historic first flight using renewable diesel, a sustainable fuel widely available in ground transportation.
2012: Next-Generation 737-800 delivered to American Airlines — 14 projects
• Aerodynamic performance of the 737 MAX advanced technology winglet. • Variable area fan nozzle to optimize engine efficiency. • Active engine vibration control. • Regenerative hydrogen fuel cell for aircraft electrical power. • Flight path optimization for operational efficiency. • Carpet made from recycled materials. • Sustainable aviation fuel
737 Eco Demonstrators
The 2021 program on an Alaska Airlines 737-9 is testing about 20 technologies.
Boeing and Alaska are working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to expand its measurements of greenhouse gas emissions, which will help improve climate modeling and long-term forecasting. An acoustic lining inside the engine nacelle is being evaluated for its ability to reduce noise on current jet engines and inform designs for next generation ultra-high bypass models.
Several flights will be conducted during which pilots, air traffic controllers and an airline’s operations center simultaneously share digital information via satellite to calculate the shortest available routes and optimum cruise altitudes, and fly continuous climb and descent paths. This enhances safety with more reliable communications over oceans while reducing workload and radio frequency congestion. These tools and procedures also minimize flight time for airline efficiency and passenger satisfaction, and improve airspace usage to accommodate future growth.
In addition, cabin interior sidewalls made from recycled carbon composite fiber, which can reduce noise and waste going to landfills, are being tested
The 2012 ecoDemonstrator 737NG was used to validate additional aerodynamic performance of natural laminar flow technology on the new 737 MAX Advanced Technology Winglet, which improves fuel efficiency by up to 1.8 percent.
The 737 also featured a modified wing with an adaptive trailing edge that could be manipulated to optimize the wing profile during different stages of the flight. The changed profile is designed to move lift further outboard to improve efficiency. This was funded by the FAA's Cleen (continuous lower-energy, emissions and noise) environmental research program. Other wing improvements were made to improve aerodynamic efficiency by cutting drag and redistributing pressure loads eg the addition of a fixed wedge on the trailing edges of the inboard and outboard flaps. The fixed shape simulated a mini split flap. A set of 40 shapes were made for the tests using stereolithography before being taped and glued onto the trailing edge. Bands of sensors were mounted fore and aft at different positions of the trailing edge along the span to assess the impact of the shapes.
It also had a PEM (proton exchange membrane) regenerative fuel cell, developed in conjunction with IHI Corp. of Japan, for an experimental galley application. It was the size of this cell that forced the demonstrator to be a 737-800 rather than a -700 because of the space it took up in tthe hold. One of the aims of the program was tol earn how to downsize that technology.
There was also an active engine vibration cancellation system developed by Hutchinson Aerospace. The system was designed to counter a natural vibration in the cabin that emanates from the engines. The current approach is to increase engine power at specific times during descent; by canceling the vibration, designers hope to save fuel by reducing required thrust.
The 737 also had a variable area nozzle (VAN). As the aircraft climbs to cruise altitude, the VAFN closes to produce an optimum exit area more suitable for the higher-altitude regime and acts “like a constant speed prop,” Although during the tests, the nozzle was fixed in a position to expand outlet area by 10%. This moderates jet velocities at takeoff, reducing noise. The technology, while not applicable to the CFM56, could offer added performance benefits to future high-bypass engines such as the Pratt & Whitney PW1100G geared turbofan.
Flight deck technology will include tests of a flight trajectory optimization system designed to fly more fuel-efficient routes. The cabin was fitted with recycled carpet.
Radio-frequency identification devices (RFID) were trialled for faster checking of emergency equipment, such as passenger oxygen masks and life jackets. Mandatory manual checks of such equipment currently take operators 5 hr. to perform per aircraft, and the demonstration hoped to show this could be done in as little as 90 sec. using an RFID reader that scans them electronically.
Ground connectivity including the uplink of weather data. The configuration tested on the 737 included a Swift intermediate-gain broadband antenna from CMC Electronics, a Thales satcom data unit and a Boeing-built Onboard Network System (ONS)—a network file server that connects via a wireless network to other aircraft systems.
The entire 45-day test phase was flown with blended biofuel.