The ‘bullet’ plane that could revolutionize commercial aviation

(CNN) – Is it an egg, a blimp, or a bullet? Whatever you want to call the shape of the Otto Celera 500L, is one that attracts attention. It is unlike any other aircraft, and for good reason: unique aerodynamics.

The shape of the Celera is designed to dramatically reduce drag by allowing air to flow very smoothly over the surface of the aircraft. That makes the plane consume less energy, which means it consumes less fuel.

“This gives us four to five times the efficiency of other turboprop aircraft and seven to eight times the efficiency of jet aircraft,” says William Otto Jr., CEO of Otto Aviation.

In numbers, that means operating costs that exceed those of similarly sized commercial jets. According to Otto Aviation, flying the Celera will cost $ 328 an hour compared to $ 2,100, with a fuel economy of 18 to 25 miles per gallon, similar to that of a large SUV, compared to two to three miles per gallon.

All that with enough room for six passengers, a speed of 460 miles per hour and a range of 4,500 miles, comparable to that of a plane. Is it too good to be true?

A smooth flow

The design of the Celera 500L was partly inspired by torpedoes.

Brad Adkins / Otto Aviation

The Celera 500L, which is currently a prototype, is the brainchild of William Otto Sr., an aerospace veteran whose work ranges from the United States’ Minuteman missile program to the B-1 bomber. The project began as a thought experiment: would it be possible to design a commercial aircraft that is dramatically cheaper to operate than current options?

For inspiration, Otto looked at the studies he had done on torpedoes, when he was trying to place more of them on a submarine. To do this, he made the engines that propelled them much smaller, giving the torpedoes a more efficient shape that required less power.

That shape was dictated by a concept known as “laminar flow.”

Laminar flow occurs when a fluid, such as air, flows in parallel layers, without interruption; It is the opposite of turbulence, which occurs when the flow is mixed or chaotic.

The egg shape of the Celera 500L is designed to achieve laminar flow on the surface of the aircraft, allowing for smoother penetration through the air.

Otto Aviation says the design offers a 59% reduction in aerodynamic drag compared to similarly sized aircraft, resulting in massive savings in fuel and emissions.

But if laminar flow works so well, why aren’t all planes designed like this?

“To maintain laminar flow you have to create structures that do not flex, bend or distort shape,” says Otto. “You could never do this with metal, composites are really the only way.

Even small, temporary imperfections, like ice or squashed insects, can affect laminar flow, which is very difficult to scale to the size of an airplane. Otto adds that cheap fuel could also have contributed to designers rejecting it in favor of simpler engineering.

A diesel engine

The plane's designers say it is 80% more efficient than the competition.

The plane’s designers say it is 80% more efficient than the competition.

Brad Adkins / Otto Aviation

Because laminar flow makes the aircraft require less power, the Celera 500L is equipped with a single V12 diesel engine at the rear, designed by the German manufacturer RED. “It was the most efficient aircraft engine we could find, to match the most efficient aerodynamic body,” says Otto.

In the near future, the diesel engine could be replaced by an electric or hydrogen engine, to make the plane emission-free. “For now, we have reduced carbon emissions by 80% compared to competitive aircraft; per passenger, we are better than airlines that meet 2030-2050 emissions requirements,” adds Otto.

The Celera 500L first flew in 2018 and has since completed around 50 test flights. So far it has only reached a top speed of about 251 miles per hour and an altitude of 17,000 feet, but a more powerful version of the engine, to be installed soon, will allow for faster speeds and higher altitudes, closer to 40,000 feet. .

At some point, windows will be added to the fuselage (currently there are none). Otto believes that the plane will eventually go on sale in 2025.

“At this point, we are starting to go out and speak with potential partners and operators around the world. We have had interest from around the world in this aircraft and we estimate that the audience for this is approximately 100 times larger than the current aviation market. private, “says Otto.

Larger models


The plane is expected to have a starting price of $ 5 million.

Brad Adkins / Otto Aviation

Due to the shape of the aircraft, the cabin is more spacious than comparable aircraft such as the Pilatus PC-12 wave Beechcraft King Air. “We have a 6’2” cabin height, which allows you to get on the plane. There is a standing sink. It really is on the same level as a midsize business jet, “says Otto.

However, the unconventional appearance could be a drag on some customers.

“This may not appeal to corporate executives flying their Gulfstreams, but there is a large audience of people who are frustrated with commercial airlines, airport security, waiting lines and how long it all takes,” says Otto.

Initially, the plane will be sold to private customers, at a price of close to $ 5 million, but there are plans for two larger models that could accommodate up to 19 and 40 passengers respectively, which will make them competitive with regional jets. Otto says that discussions are ongoing with the major airlines.

The Celera, however, has a long way to go before that, including years of test flights and a full certification of the aircraft. Most importantly, it includes keeping an impressive set of promises.

According to Richard Aboulafia, aviation analyst at Teal Group, Otto Aviation is making very important claims in terms of aircraft performance.

“It all sounds exceptionally promising, but perhaps too promising,” says Aboulafia. “Given the combination of range, speed, capacity, and a very low horsepower engine given all those metrics, I think they just need to prove it works.

“If they can actually achieve what they claim, then it should be scalable upward,” he adds. “But then again, I think it’s best to take a cautious view and wait to see if it can be tested on your first plane.”

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