Aircraft noise is often a nuisance for people living near airports and in flight paths - and, in the worst case, a health hazard: from sleep disorders to cardiovascular diseases. According to a report by the European Environment Agency , around four million people in Europe were exposed to excessive levels of aircraft noise in 2017. New types of aircraft with a blended wing body (BWB), whose fuselage merges seamlessly into the wings - with less air resistance and lower fuel consumption - are seen as a beacon of hope to alleviate this burden. And with lower noise emissions towards the ground if the engines are mounted on top of the fuselage.
How would such new long-haul aircraft for around 400 passengers perform compared to conventional aircraft? The Empa team has now published its results in the journal Aerospace Science and Technology. Based on the laws of physics, the experts generated noise simulations of overflights - purely synthetically using computer programs. They checked these simulations against recordings of current aircraft arrivals and departures around Zurich Airport. As the simulated noise corresponded well with the measured data, they could be used for comparison with the simulations for the new BWB aircraft concept.
In order to determine how disturbing the noise emissions of the various commercial aircraft are to people when they fly over, 31 people aged between 18 and 61 took part in elaborately designed experiments in Empa’s AuraLab. The spatial simulations from the precisely arranged loudspeakers comprised - after a familiarization run - 36 overflights: take-offs and landings of conventional and innovative aircraft types, each in different flight phases. These noise scenarios also included details such as flap positions or the position of the landing gear as well as atmospheric conditions such as turbulence or sound reflections on the ground.
After the experiment, the test subjects filled out questionnaires, in which they reported their subjective impressions - using a common and standardized 11-point scale ranging from 0 for "not at all disturbed or annoyed" to 10 for "extremely disturbed or annoyed". They were also asked how familiar the respective sound event sounded to them.
The results: The new BWB aircraft was rated 4.3 units less noisy at best than the conventional passenger jet. This is a clear difference, which was also due to the fact that the virtual aircraft in the simulation was equipped with additional noise reduction technologies or particularly low-emission engines. In addition, the surveys showed that take-offs of this type of aircraft left a sound impression that seemed less familiar to the participants - an indication of unusual acoustic characteristics that are likely to have a positive influence on the perception of annoyance.
Of course, it is difficult to predict which variant of a BWB aircraft will prevail in the future, given the many possible variants. But according to Empa researcher Reto Pieren, one thing is certain. "The greatest contribution to noise reduction undoubtedly comes from the shape of the aircraft, which shields the engine noise downwards," says the acoustics expert, "other noise reduction technologies only account for around 15 percent of the reduction in annoyance."
ARTEM (Aircraft noise Reduction Technologies and related Environmental iMpact) was a five-year research project that began at the end of 2017 and focused on innovative noise reduction technologies for aircraft configurations from 2035 and 2050. Firstly, innovative approaches were developed to reduce aircraft noise at source. Secondly, the project dealt with concepts to effectively dampen engine noise and other sources of noise using new materials. The new technologies resulted in the design of a future jet with a blended wing body. The large-scale project involved 24 partners from ten European countries , including the French Office national d’études et de recherches aérospatiales (ONERA) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), which coordinated the project, the University of Rome III and EPFL. ARTEM was funded as part of the EU’s Horizon 2020 program.