UK Engineers open flight path to quieter aircraft

May 20, 2004

A new international project to reduce aircraft noise is building on pioneering research by UK engineers.

The Cambridge-MIT Institute's Silent Aircraft Initiative (SAI) aims to design an aircraft that will make much less noise than conventional aeroplanes. To help meet its objectives, the project will use noise-modelling techniques devised by engineers at Cambridge University with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). As well as Cambridge University, participants in the SAI include the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a number of other organisations.

Noise is a major aviation issue that will become even more pressing in future, with a 300% increase in air traffic forecast by 2020. This could have a major impact on the quality of life of people living close to airports. The SAI represents a response to the problem. It will take an integrated approach to aircraft design and operations, and investigate radically different aircraft configurations that could lead to dramatic reductions in noise.

The SAI will build on results from two EPSRC-funded projects. The first has led to the development of computationally efficient calculations of the noise made by helicopter blades moving at high subsonic speeds. It involved developing innovative but simple computer-based models that can provide a better understanding of how noise is produced during flight.

The second project is looking at jet noise. It aims to develop a prediction capability for jet noise which can be used, for instance, to assess how incorporating serrations or other modifications into jet engines can reduce jet noise at take-off. Achieving this will involve developing a computer model capable of predicting jet noise, improving understanding of noise source mechanisms, and identifying potential ways of modifying these mechanisms. The Cambridge team involved in these two projects are now harnessing their expertise in a different way. Professor Ann Dowling of Cambridge University, who is leading the SAI, says: "The Initiative is not just about understanding and modelling aircraft noise. It aims to have an impact on the aerospace industry, and people living near airports, by developing designs and operational procedures for a radically different type of aircraft - an aircraft whose noise is almost imperceptible to the surrounding community."
Notes for Editors:

The EPSRC-funded research initiatives being harnessed by the Silent Aircraft Initiative are:

- "Transonic Helicopter Noise". Duration: 3 years 6 months. With EPSRC funding of more than £180,000. Partners: Westland plc and Thales Underwater Systems Ltd. Recently completed.

- "Jet Noise". Duration: 3 years. EPSRC funding of more than £171,000. Partner: Rolls Royce plc. Recently commenced.

Professor Ann Dowling says: "The physical understanding of noise sources and the modelling techniques generated by the EPSRC-funded research have given us the confidence to tackle an ambitious project like the Cambridge-MIT Institute's Silent Aircraft Initiative".

Launched in November 2003, the SAI is receiving £4 million in funding from CMI (the Cambridge-MIT Institute) and industry. UK organisations involved in the SAI include: Rolls-Royce plc, Marshall of Cambridge, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), National Air Traffic Services (NATS), British Airways (BA) and the British Airports Authority (BAA). Website address for more information on the SAI:

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. EPSRC invests more than £500 million a year in research and postgraduate training to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and from mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements in everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC also actively promotes public awareness of science and engineering. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK. Website address for more information on EPSRC:

The Cambridge-MIT Institute (CMI) is a pioneering partnership between two world-class institutions: the University of Cambridge in the UK and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the USA. Established in July 2000, it receives funding from the UK government and industry partners to carry out education and research to enhance the competitiveness, productivity and entrepreneurship of the UK economy. The Silent Aircraft Initiative is one of a series of projects it is launching to help enhance knowledge exchange between academia and industry and to push forward research and increase the pace of innovation. Website address for more information about this, and about CMI:

For more information, contact:

Professor Ann Dowling, Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge, Tel: 44-122-333-2739, E-mail:

Rachel Simpson, Cambridge-MIT Institute Press Officer, Tel: 44-122-344-8764, e-mail:

An image ('prototype aircraft".jpg) is available from the EPSRC Press Office, contact: Natasha Richardson, tel: 44-179-344-4404, e-mail: or Jonathan Wakefield, tel: 44-179-344-4075, e-mail: Suggested caption: 'silence is golden: one of a number of designs being considered by the SAI'

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

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