SUGAR high

Zach Hoisington

As an engineer in the advanced concepts group, Zach Hoisington thinks he just may have the best job at Boeing. “I get to explore new concepts and come up with aircraft ideas and see where they go. It’s the closest thing I can imagine to living the childhood dream of being able to make paper airplanes my whole life,” said Hoisington, part of product development in Long Beach, California.

Hoisington was on the team that first began researching advanced aircraft concepts with dramatically improved fuel efficiency and environmental performance for the NASA-funded SUGAR — Subsonic Ultra Green Aircraft Research — project in 2008. The team studied aircraft designs and technology that could potentially reduce fuel consumption and emissions by up to 75 percent by the 2030 to 2050 time frame.

A key to the team’s success in identifying concepts and candidates for new aircraft designs was the way members worked together and approached the study, Hoisington said. “The SUGAR project was wonderful because the process was so open; we could look at any idea, old or new, on a level playing field, even if the concept didn’t originate with our team,” he said.

“It is a great example of idea sharing. We wanted to have an unbiased look at any technology. This type of study is refreshing and brings out a better result in the end.”

The team process also allows for a high level of individual creativity and input. “Like with a lot of engineers, some of my best ideas don’t happen 9 to 5 at work; they come while I’m on a trip or vacation,” Hoisington said. “When I get back to the office I’ll analyze the potential and try to simulate how it could work.

“If an idea has merit I’ll take it to the team, we’ll look at it together and build on it from there,” Hoisington said.

The team analyzed ideas that cover a wide spectrum of engine and airframe technology, including:

  • Advanced propulsion systems, such as gas turbines combined with electric motors, fuel cells and fuel cell–gas turbine hybrids.
  • Cryogenic fuels, such as hydrogen and a liquefied natural gas/methane.
  • Cryogenically cooled engines and associated technologies.
  • Advanced batteries.
  • Open rotor/turboprop technologies.
  • Conventional high-span and truss-braced wings.

Boeing and NASA are focusing continued research on several concepts, including an aircraft with hybrid electric propulsion, nicknamed SUGAR Volt, and an aircraft with a truss-braced high span wing, SUGAR High.

SUGAR program leaders say the study is providing Boeing and NASA with detailed information on high-potential technologies and a road map showing the steps needed to get the technologies ready for applications on future aircraft.

“The SUGAR project really helped develop and mature these technologies to a greater level of understanding. I think future generations of aircraft and the environment will see significant benefits from what we’ve accomplished,” Hoisington said.