'Flying Doughnuts': Airbus Files Patent For A New Kind Of Plane

Nov 17, 2014
Originally published on November 18, 2014 1:50 pm

Airbus has filed a patent for a new plane that looks decidedly more Star Trek Enterprise than airplane.

The Financial Times dubbed it "flying doughnuts."

According to the patent application, the craft would address a long-standing problem for plane designers — pressurized cabins, which stress planes on the front and back ends and require heavy, reinforced frames.

The patent says the new design would distribute that pressure in a way that would be more "economic and efficient."

Airbus says the design also has an additional benefit: Seating passengers in a circle, doughnut-style, allows for more fliers than the old-fashioned paper-towel-holder-with-two-wings.

"An approximately cylindrical geometry limits possibilities for increasing the passenger carrying capacity of the aircraft," the patent says.

Airbus spokesman Justin Dubon, though, told NPR that the design is not currently in production — and may never be. Dubon says the company files more than 600 patents every year.

"Some of these become the seed for other ideas with practical use," he says.

Still, Dubon says, "There are some very clever people here that have fantastic ideas. And who knows? Maybe one day they will come to light."

In the meantime, Airbus may want to start redesigning the drink carts to handle curves.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Here's one of those drawing board ideas that gets the imagination going. The company Airbus recently filed a patent application for a plane that fits passengers in a 360-degree cabin. The design could pack in more people, but NPR's Laura Sullivan says, it's probably too soon to rethink a drink cart that can better handle curves.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STAR TREK")

WILLIAM SHATNER: (As Captain James T. Kirk) Space - the final frontier...

LAURA SULLIVAN, BYLINE: "Star Trek" fans, UFO watchers, alien invasion Xbox box gamers - everyone knows that aircraft of the future are shaped like circles. And yet, year after year, we all tread down the jetway to airplanes shaped like paper towel holders with wings. Maybe not for long - last month, Europe's Airbus filed a patent application for a whole new kind of plane. It seats passengers in large concentric circles, like a giant doughnut, inside a structure shaped more like a triangle. According to the patent, it would more efficiently distribute pressurization, which would eliminate the need for heavy reinforced frames.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STAR TREK")

SHATNER: (As Captain James T. Kirk) ...To boldly go where no one has gone before.

SULLIVAN: Not so fast. Airbus spokesman Justin Dubon says, it's just one patent. They file about 600 of them a year. And, he says, it's not currently in production. But he did say anything's possible. In the meantime, sci-fi fans the world over will be ready to board. Laura Sullivan, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.