It may be a long way off from hitting the production lines but this experimental ‘hybrid wing body’ (HWB) plane could set future trends in aircraft design.
NASA and Boeing sent their futuristic triangular shaped aircraft, the X-48C into the skies to perform its first test flights this week.
The unmanned plane – built in the UK by Cranfield Aerospace – set off from NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Centre in California on Tuesday and touched down on the tarmac nine minutes later.
The remotely piloted aircraft is a scaled down version of what Boeing hopes to use as inspiration for future passenger aircraft, but for now is mainly being explored for its potential in military operations.
Blended wing bodies represent an efficiency leap over today’s standard tube and wing design, producing lower drag and better lift – resulting in a quieter, more fuel efficient plane.
The concept is not new, however and has been an ongoing and expensive R&D project for Boeing and NASA, whose X-48C research aircraft has been modified from its predecessor: the X-48B, which flew between 2007 and 2010.
The latest X-48C test flights, which will continue throughout the year, are designed to test the noise levels produced by the scale model’s engines at low speeds.
On the new design the engines are mounted further forward and there are two at the back – compared to three on the previous version: adjustments that Boeing and NASA hope will reduce aircraft noise.
At a full scale, the X-48C model would have a 240-foot wingspan, 11,000 mile range and could be developed in the next 20 years for military uses, such as aerial refueling or cargo missions, Boeing said.