A research program funded by the European Union dug deep into aviation history for inspiration on a futuristic design that aims to increase efficiency by doing away with wingtips.
The Parsifal Project has produced a proposed design dubbed PrandtlPlane, an homage to Ludwig Prandtl who developed an idea for an airplane wing that boosted efficiency (and reduced drag) by wrapping around on itself to form a box around the fuselage. Largely ignored in the 1920s, the concept was dusted off by Aldo Frediani, a professor at the University of Pisa, Italy, who coordinates the Parsifal project. Frediani used mathematics to prove Prandtl was on to something, and his team designed an airliner of the future around that concept.
Wings using this design could also be made stronger with less weight, employing a structure similar to stalks of grass, another source of inspiration for the team.
Reduced emissions of both noise and pollution are also expected. The research team hopes to have aircraft with box wing designs in the air in 10 to 15 years.