Featured Aircraft

Mighty wings

Bombardier’s unwavering commitment to sustainability takes flight with the EcoJet Research Project.

A runway view of the EcoJet
A runway view of the EcoJet

In a remote, secret location in North America, an 18-foot-span autonomous test aircraft speeds down a runway and glides up into the air. A takeoff 16 years in the making, the aircraft’s immaculate white livery glistens in the sun. What looks like the opening sequence of an action film is the latest milestone in Bombardier’s recently revealed EcoJet Research Project, a platform dedicated to exploring new technologies in aerodynamics, flight controls, propulsion and other enhancements to reduce business jet emissions by up to 50%.

The project is part of Bombardier’s ongoing commitment towards a more sustainable aviation, which it under- stands as critical not only to mitigate its own environmental impact, but to ensure the longevity of the industry it leads, seeing a sustainable mindset as inseparable from economic growth. To do this, Bombardier is devoting most of its research and technology budget towards developing more sustainable aircraft technologies.

Building flying machines that would perform at the level of today’s business jets and incorporate current sustainability approaches involves inherent unique challenges. Complete electrification of jet engines, for example, is not viable at the moment for long-range business jets primarily due to battery weight. Simply put: flying a plane with a comfortable cabin volume over a long mission and at high speeds requires a lot of energy, and batteries are still too heavy.

Barriers to electrification aside, while business aviation accounts for only 0.04% of global CO2 emissions annually (by comparison, the fashion and agriculture sectors are each estimated to be responsible for approximately 10%), the industry has articulated a goal to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. It’s a bold vision, and one to which Bombardier has aligned its Research and Technology efforts. The EcoJet Research Project plays a crucial role, offering a platform through which Bombardier can test, fail, gather data, rinse, repeat and iterate, forging a path towards a new generation of aircraft. The project was initiated behind closed doors more than a decade ago, when Bombardier’s research and technology team married their deep expertise in aerodynamics with projections of future needs and possibilities. 

The EcoJet is one star in Bombardier’s broader constellation of industry- leading sustainability initiatives.

The most recent, largest scale prototype developed in this project has a wingspan of approximately 16% of that of a Bombardier long-range jet, and took itself for a series of successful flights in the fall of 2023 as part of the project’s second test phase. One of the key features differentiating these test vehicles is their Blended Wing Body (BWB) design. Like the fins of a stingray or the wings of a flying squirrel, this design features a fuselage shape which blends into its wings, a dramatic departure from traditional aircraft builds in which the wings are directly mounted above or below the tubular fuselage. From an aerodynamic perspective, this innovation results in the fuselage generating more lift, allowing for smaller wings, which in turn reduces drag. Less drag means less fuel consumption, which means a reduction in emissions. While potentially industry-changing from an efficiency perspective, this geometry is subject to unconventional flight control techniques. Manufacturers need to understand how BWB aircraft perform within these parameters, and this is one of the primary purposes of the data-gathering with BWB scale prototypes. The project is intentionally designed to develop progressively, with prototypes moving up in scale to perform new tests and gather more robust data.

Bombardier’s EcoJet team on the runway
Bombardier’s EcoJet team, together with partners from University of Victoria and other academic institutions, is devoted to innovation from inception to testing.

Beyond gains in efficiencies, the project aims to maintain, if not exceed, the customer experience. Says Stephen McCullough, senior vice president, engineering and product development, Bombardier, “We want our aircraft to fly above commercial aircraft traffic, which gives more ability to avoid unfavorable weather and all at the same high speeds our business jets can attain today. We expect to operate out of all the same runways we operate out of now. The evolution of the onboard experience will be an equally dramatic step forward.” This includes interior design, which has been a huge consideration in the EcoJet project as well. The BWB configuration has been sparking the imagination of Bombardier’s award-winning cabin design team led by Laurence Casia, leading them to rethink basic elements like the window placement, the positioning of the galley or the bedroom. “My team is exceptionally excited about that, because we now have a completely different sand- box,” says Casia. Unsurprisingly, the smooth flight experience, some- thing that Bombardier is famous for, is central in the project as well.

Besides the exploration of the BWB configuration, the EcoJet project is a research pathway for many other technologies, including some that could be implemented on Bombardier’s in-service aircraft further down the road. For example, Bombardier’s teams are developing the next generation of aerodynamic modelling techniques, and structural optimization tools that will further reduce aircraft drag and weight.

A close up of one of EcoJet’s groundbreaking engines.
A close up of one of EcoJet’s groundbreaking engines.

As to the next phase of the project, McCullough states, “We’re going to let the physics drive us.” With phase two underway, demonstration flights are expected to run up a few years, and data gathered will further finesse design. In a way, Bombardier’s EcoJet project has the characteristics of a world-saving Hollywood hero, fighting for emissions reductions with its arsenal of winning technological advances that complement each other: new aerodynamics, alternative aircraft propulsion and advanced design optimization methods. The EcoJet research project is charting the flight path for barrier-breaking, next- gen jets, which will ultimately soar in cleaner skies.

Related articles

  • Project Sunrise
    Featured Aircraft

    Project Sunrise

    By Sebastian Macdougall - October 25th 2023

    Behind the scenes of Bombardier’s historic and top-secret supersonic test flight

    Go to article
  • Best Seats in the House
    Featured Aircraft

    Best Seats in the House

    By Michael Stephen Johnson - May 23rd 2023

    A masterpiece of innovation, Bombardier’s award-winning Nuage seating collection recreates the comfort of luxury home seating at 40,000 feet.

    Go to article

Latest articles

  • A conversation with Douglas Coupland

    A conversation with Douglas Coupland

    By Elio Iannacci - May 29th 2024

    The iconic artist opens up on the beauty and the reality of The New Ice Age.

    Go to article
  • Nepal’s Hidden Gem

    Nepal’s Hidden Gem

    By Charu Suri - June 5th 2024

    Touring the majesty of Mustang, a former forbidden city with next-level luxury.

    Go to article