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Modular Passenger Aircraft

Have the passenger-carrying section of the aircraft made removable.
  (+13, -1)(+13, -1)
(+13, -1)
  [vote for,

Tremendous effort goes into designing passenger aircraft so that they are as efficient as possible at moving people from place-to-place. They are earning money when they are in the air, and costing money when they are on the ground. Time on the ground is made necessary by several factors: fueling, maintenance and most of all, passenger loading/unloading.

To circumvent this, I propose that the passenger/cargo component of the aircraft be made a self-contained unit that may be loaded independently of the bit of the aircraft that's responsible for flying.

The whole thing is VERY CLOSELY modeled on Thunderbird 2.

So, here's the passenger experience: you go to the airport, wave the appropriate bar codes at the correct places, put your bag on a conveyor and go through the ritual humiliation of security. Then proceed immediately to the gate where your pod is waiting with nice wide doors at the front and back. You can take you time stowing your carry- on while bags are packed underneath. No rush. Meanwhile, your aircraft is landing with a different pod attached.

When it's time, the doors are closed off and everyone strapped in. Your pod trundles to the now-vacant aircraft on the back of it's special truck, raised into position, locked in and off you go.

This also allows for cargo/passenger versions to be interchanged, the pilot is isolated from the passenger cabin by design, turnaround time is reduced. Maintenance/upgrades/replacement of the passenger pod and aircraft may be completed independently. Diverse aircraft may be designed to carry 1/2/3 pods which will facilitate the hub-and-spoke model of air travel. All aircraft of this type MUST be painted green in homage to Thunderbird 2.

bs0u0155, Feb 26 2013

Fast-load ferry Fast-load_20ferry
by rbl. [calum, Feb 26 2013]

airliner passenger cartridges
[xaviergisz, Mar 02 2013]

Airbus have applied for a patent for this very thing! http://www.gizmag.c...lar-aircraft/40660/
Oh, please let the Halfbakery be entered as evidence of prior art in a patent trial. [friendlyfire, Dec 05 2015]

Airbus's actual patent http://patft.uspto....airbus+AND+ISD/2015
Gizmag linked to a patent about winglets. [notexactly, Dec 05 2015]

Much more elegant. http://www.castanet...6569-57-.htm#156569
[2 fries shy of a happy meal, Jan 20 2016]

Gary Larson — Equine Medicine https://s-media-cac...f2f87fb92769561.jpg
[Ian Tindale, Jan 20 2016]

Work so far has focused on different kinds of modules. https://www.youtube...watch?v=AaChszhz4o4
[Voice, Oct 30 2017]

Baked for Reindeer anyhow https://blog.alaska...ombi-plane-retires/
Cargo Igloos in Alaska [mylodon, Nov 02 2017]


       I see difficulties with this.   

       In particular, it's going to be embarrassing when the aircraft makes its climbout and folds itself into an unplanned shape.   

       The fuselage is a major structural component, and you really want it to be fixed to the wings in a rather solid way. Either that, or the airframe will have to be redesigned so that it is fully stable even without the pod in place. That's going to add weight, which is often seen in a negative light by those who design aircraft.   

       You might get away with it, though, if you had a tubular pod that slid in from an opening nose. The pod itself would have to be very lightweight, since it would be essentially an addition to an otherwise normal aircraft.   

       Also, I think we did something similar here before, but I may well be wrong.
MaxwellBuchanan, Feb 26 2013

       I'm pretty sure the aircraft would be heavier than standard. However, I'm pretty sure you'd gain pretty big on the turnaround time for shorter flights. Obviously, as a percentage, loading/unloading is very little on a 12hr flight. But a route like Manchester-Dublin spends more time on the ground than in the air. If you can halve the dead-time, then you're flying 50% more, and I think the weight increase will be small enough to make this more worthwhile.   

       The engineering problems were worked out by Brains, we should be OK there.
bs0u0155, Feb 26 2013

       Both Fairchild and Fiesler did prototypes of transport aircraft that were very Thunderbird-2ish.
FlyingToaster, Feb 26 2013

       I suppose you could swap out fuel tanks the same way. The net effect, though, is that you have all these airplane components sitting around not making money, while being emptied or filled as appropriate, and equal numbers of those components actually in the air making money.   

       Obviously you will want those components to be as cheap as possible. I'm not sure that can work for the passenger area.   

       Oh, and one of the other reasons a plane sits on the ground for a while is CLEANING. The toilet tanks need to be empied, the barf from unexpected turbulence needs to be swabbed, and so on.
Vernon, Feb 26 2013

       You might consider making the passenger section a towable glider and having different tugs for various routes. Could be a safety measure in case of engine failure on the tug .
cudgel, Feb 26 2013

       A couple thoughts:   

       While the combined weight could not be exactly the same, the increase would not have to be that large. The plane is already composed of the structural part plus the plastic walls that are in contact with the passengers. If the system was designed so that the pod slide on rails (and the baggage compartment hung from rails), the pod itself would need very little additional structure besides teh exiting plastic walls. Of course that would require the plane to mate tightly with the terminal to provide continuous upper and lower rails to slide the pod out the front of the plane.   

       My other thought is that once you've gone this far, the pod really ought to break open to allow passengers to exit rapidly. I'm thinking that once the pod reached the unloading area, the rail supporting the left overhead bagage compartment would move left, taking the bagage as well as the left wall about 20 feet sideways, and lowering it a couple feet, the wall slipping into an appropriate slot in the floor. Something similar would happen to the right half. The passensger could then get out the sides rather than the aisle and walk over to the now lowered compartments. Once they have their luggage, there would be a 20 floot wide hallway, allowing the mass of people to exit at the same time. Since the pod is now wide open, it could be cleaned and serviced by a large crew very rapidly rather than having a small crew working the length of the airplane. This could reduce the time on the ground that the pod spends in unloading, cleaning, and maintenance which would offset the longer time that the pod spent in loading.   

       This would lend itself to a bit different airport layout. I think it would make sense for all of the incoming pods to get transported with passengers aboard to an unloading area closer to the main terminal. The number of unloading bays could be much smaller than the number of loading areas because the unloding and cleaning would be pretty quick, and then the pod would be sent out to a departure gate. I think the pod should be closed before loading going to a departure gate for loading. It would be nice if passengers could load quickly, but it seems like it would be problematic ensuring that there are no finger or straps in the way while reassembling the pod. It would probably be possible to use a much simpler latching mechanism if there is a large maintenace crew to oversee it to ensure that all the bits are snapped back together properly, since the plastic walls will be somewhat floppy. And since people trickle through security slowly, they can just walk into the waiting pod and sit down. There might not be any need for seating at each gate.
scad mientist, Feb 27 2013

       One teeny flaw...   

       The main landing gear retract into the fuselage. When the main fuselage "pod" is removed, you need to remember to turn off gravity so the aircraft will be able to remain balanced on the nosewheel alone. Other than the fact that it won't work, great idea.
Klaatu, Mar 01 2013

       The main landing gear would retract into part of the permanently fixed structure that also includes the wings, engines, empennage, small cabin crew areas for those remaining with the plane, cockpit and nose. Also, if you're smart, fuel tanks, since having those come loose during flight would be bad. A standard cargo pod would have a cutout to clear this.   

       As far as having airline equipment on the ground, it wouldn't be that bad. People would unload, a cleaning crew would move through, and then the plane would start loading for the next flight, which doesn't have to be on the same airframe. The total idle time for a pod wouldn't have to be much more than it is right now for the entire plane, and the idle time for the airframe would be minimal.
MechE, Mar 01 2013

       Sure, the landing gear is going to be in the wing roots. There are so many variations that are so well-baked that this is a trivial modification. Also, traditional landing gear was eschewed in Thunderbird 2. We can only assume that wheels are for the unimaginative.   

       The fuel tanks can be in the wings, like they mostly are right now.   

       The Idle time for the pods is much less important than the idle time for an aircraft.... think of the area taken up by a plane... you could probably stack 10 fuselage-width passenger pods in the same space. Also, they're already optimized for being lifted, simply make a hangar with shelves. Actually, make them stack-able.   

       There will always be more pods than aircraft because of the multiple roles they might play. Passenger and cargo are the obvious straight-up replacements. But this works really well for military deployment: you can have a whole barracks made of pods and when the time comes, simple requisition/rent the enormous fleet of civilian aircraft to deploy the entire base to another part of the globe.
bs0u0155, Mar 01 2013

       [ ] good only for single destination flights. Granted, _very_ good for single destination flights.
FlyingToaster, Mar 02 2013

       I like the idea of having a modular capsule that can detatch from the rest of the aircraft in an emergency and has its own parachute system and can also float.
Not exactly this idea I know, but I thought I'd toss it out there.

       //It's also seen as a negative by those who pay for the fuel used by an aircraft.   

       Easily ameliorated by the passengers bringing their own fuel etc
not_morrison_rm, Jun 15 2013

       //The engineering problems were worked out by Brains, we should be OK there.//   

       Bun for the reference to one of my childhood heroes.
doctorremulac3, Jun 15 2013

       Adds weight, wastes fuel, reduces space for passengers.   

       Makes the plane more complex, expensive and failure prone.   

       Planes need time on the ground anyway for refueling and checklists.   

       Meh. -
Kansan101, Jun 18 2013

       Actually I think it'd at least break even for running costs, even make a bit. Bear in mind that servicing the passenger compartment and servicing the mechanicals don't really have anything to do with each other.
FlyingToaster, Jun 18 2013

       Look up turn-around time.   

       Smaller airliners take 30 minutes for refueling and flight tests.   

       Larger airliners take an hour.   

       Passenger movement times are about the same I think.   

       You still need to do this even if you have modules. Modules would ADD time, probably, because they would have to be installed and added to the checklist.
Kansan101, Jun 18 2013

       A bunch of modules could be kept, serviced and ready to go on the ground, maintenance/repair, replenishing and inspection done when convenient. (As usual the night shift does most of the work).   

       All you have to do then is clamp the module onto the airplane and connect a couple of electrical/signal cables.
FlyingToaster, Jun 18 2013

       Ameliorate fuel costs whatever by never actually landing the plane.   

       Each passengers get a metal box to lie in, which are raised to 35,000 ft by hydrogen balloons where they are caught by the plane, which extracts the hydrogen for fuel.   

       Exit from plane by individual ejection of metal box (with parachute) to your door - route permitting.
not_morrison_rm, Jun 18 2013

       //Planes need time on the ground anyway for refueling and checklists. //   

       Could put the fuel tanks in the modules themselves. That would require extending them into the wings but that could be done.   

       This isn't strictly an engineering question, clearly the complexity and structural components you'd have to add would make this a less efficient aircraft.   

       But if you could have a plane almost constantly on the move for ten hours straight flying passengers, say from San Francisco to L.A. by eliminating those 45 minute to an hour unloading/loading/fueling times it might make sense financially. If you could get say 10 flights a day instead of 6, it might be worth doing.
doctorremulac3, Jun 18 2013

       It might be more efficient just to ensmoothen the entire boarding process for standard aircraft.   

       For instance, when a train stops, passengers generally board and take their seats within the 2-3 minutes before the train starts moving.   

       Why are aircraft so slow to board and fly? Well:   

       (1) Passengers generally board in pseudo-random order, meaning that one passenger has to wait behind another while they sort out their hand luggage and take their seat. Solution: board in strict seat-row order.   

       (2) Hold-luggage has to be loaded. Solution: load the luggage into one or two large containers as the passengers check in, then just slot those containers into the aircraft.   

       (3) Aircraft wait around for a take-off slot. Solution: with more predictable passenger and baggage loading times, it should be possible to manage slots more precisely, with less waiting time.
MaxwellBuchanan, Dec 05 2015

       // ensmoothen the entire boarding process for standard aircraft. //   

       Easily done.   

       1. Check in the passengers.   

       2. Grind them down to a slurry, adding emulsifiers and water as necessary to give an appropriate viscosity.   

       3. Store them in a tank until required.   

       4. Pump them onto the aircraft through a large-bore flexible hose.
8th of 7, Dec 05 2015

       The most efficient way is to simulate the journey and landing by replacing the windows with UHD 3D monitors.   

       And to not tell the passengers, of course.
Ian Tindale, Dec 05 2015

       Looking for investors. [link]   

       Regarding that link.   

       I think drawing attention to the accident scenarios is a poor strategy. Accidents involving aircraft loss in level flight are astonishingly rare. Recent aircraft losses in level flight are weather, missiles, bombs and pilot suicide. This system will not help you in those scenarios. It's much more likely that something will happen in take off and landing, and there's not enough time or perhaps altitude to think about deploying the cabin then. You're also asking the crew to sacrifice themselves, which they might be fine with. But it complicates a safety critical decision, which is never good.   

       Anyhow, airlines think a lot about their liability in air crashes. Compensation varies wildly depending upon the perceived suffering of the victims. For example, American Airlines 191 had a live feed from a cockpit camera to the passengers, so they could watch the aircraft roll, take off and then nosedive into the ground. Because of the increase in perceived suffering and liability, they don't have cameras anymore. The point being that the parachute descending cabin would have a lovely view of the burning cockpit containing the sacrificial crew. The airline would get sued into non-existence for the survivor guilt and PTSD this would inevitably cause.
bs0u0155, Jan 20 2016

       Good point. So, in the event of any mild aberration to normal operations, it’d probably be cheaper to self destruct immediately just in case (link ~).
Ian Tindale, Jan 20 2016

       Immediate death is about $160k per passenger. Prolonged suffering can mean many millions multiplied by the number... so yeah, that's where the incentives are pointing.
bs0u0155, Jan 20 2016


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