The future of flight?

Aug 08, 2012 23 Comments by

On August 8, 2012, this aircraft flew for the first time at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California.  Called the “X-48C,” this is a scale model of of a heavy-lift, subsonic aircraft that has a blended-wing body. During its first flight, the remotely piloted plane flew for nine minutes and reached an altitude of 5,500 feet. Here’s the scoop on this unusual vehicle, which is intended to reduce fuel burn, emissions, and noise of future aircraft:

Boeing and NASA believe the BWB concept offers the potential over the long-term of significantly greater fuel efficiency and reduced noise.

“Working with NASA, we are very pleased to enter into the next flight-test phase of our work to explore and validate the aerodynamic characteristics and efficiencies of the Blended Wing Body concept,” said Bob Liebeck, a Boeing Senior Technical Fellow and the company’s BWB program manager.

“In our earlier flight testing of the X-48B, we proved that a BWB aircraft can be controlled as effectively as a conventional tube-and-wing aircraft during takeoffs and landings and other low-speed segments of the flight regime,” Liebeck said. “With the X-48C, we will be evaluating the impact of noise shielding concepts on low-speed flight characteristics.”

The X-48C is a modified version of the X-48B aircraft, which flew 92 times at NASA Dryden between 2007 and 2010. The X-48C is configured with two 89-pound thrust turbojet engines, instead of three 50-pound thrust engines on the B-model; and wingtip winglets have been relocated inboard next to the engines on the C-model, effectively turning them into twin tails. The aft deck also was extended about 2 feet at the rear.

“We are thrilled to get back in the air to start collecting data in this low-noise configuration,” said Heather Maliska, NASA Dryden’s X-48C project manager.

The modified test vehicle was designed by Boeing and built by Cranfield Aerospace Ltd., in the United Kingdom, in accordance with Boeing requirements.

While Boeing continuously explores and applies innovative technologies at its own expense to enhance its current and next-generation products, the X-48C flight-test research is an example of how the company also is looking much farther into the future at revolutionary concepts that offer even greater breakthroughs in the science of flight.

“Boeing has been a leader in technology and aerospace for almost 100 years. Our employees work to solve big challenges and create complex, highly capable systems, from today’s 787 Dreamliner airplane and P-8A Poseidon multi-mission military aircraft to the X-48C, which explores ideas for future advances. Every day our team is building on our legacy of groundbreaking technical achievements that have improved life for people worldwide,” said John Tracy, Boeing chief technology officer and senior vice president of Engineering, Operations & Technology.

Engineers from Boeing Research & Technology, the company’s central research, technology and innovation organization, will be working closely with NASA engineers during flight tests of the X-48C, which are expected to continue throughout 2012. As handling qualities of the X-48C will be different than those of the X-48B, the project team developed flight control software modifications, including flight control limiters to keep the airplane flying within a safe flight envelope.

With a 21-foot wingspan, the 500-pound aircraft is an 8.5 percent scale model of a heavy-lift, subsonic airplane with a 240-foot wingspan that possibly could be developed in the next 15 to 20 years for military applications such as aerial refueling and cargo missions. The X-48C has an estimated top speed of about 140 miles per hour, with a maximum altitude of 10,000 feet. The X-48C project team consists of Boeing, NASA, Cranfield Aeropace, and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory.

Boeing and NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate are funding X-48 technology demonstration research. The effort supports NASA’s Environmentally Responsible Aviation project, which has goals to reduce fuel burn, emissions and noise of future aircraft.

 

Debra Cleghorn, Featured News

About the author

Executive editor About me: I’m a publishing professional who has a passion for aviation and RC, and I love creating issues, books and a website that help RC pilots to enjoy this sport even more. I admire scale aircraft and enjoy the convenience of flying smaller electrics.

23 Responses to “The future of flight?”

  1. Richard says:

    Very Cool!!!

  2. Brian Millar says:

    Will be amazing to see this type of design in the commercial airline sector, think of the room it would have to offer.

  3. FHH says:

    Blended wing/body … essentially a fancy flying wing… does present some drag reduction which means less power for the same payload and airspeed.

    But its more sensitive to CG and gives the passengers very little access to windows.

    I’d expect it to be more successful for UPS and other air freight use than carrying passengers. Its easier to maintain the correct CG with freight which doesn’t tend to wander up and down the aisles in flight.

    • Dan Arnold says:

      Load masters will have the additional problem of computing lateral balance when placing cargo along with the present calculation of longitudinal, (CG), balance. In other words, don’t put all the watermellons left of the center line if you’re going to put all the fresh flowers to the right of it.

  4. Ronald O'Brien Williams says:

    Dear Debra,
    My 14 year old son Rolen has been flying the flight simulator since the age of 2 years and the world model mustang (miss america) at the age of 4. He designed an airplane called the silver striker at the age of 10 which was very similar to the airplane above.
    He has now done a design for a plane( Home built ) which has a lot of changes from aerodynamics as we know it in fact the very design of the wing’s leading edge and the elevator is as none of today’s airplanes. I have many photographs of his flying rc planes.
    Ronald O’Brien

  5. Paul Levy says:

    I WANT ONE! (The model)

  6. Paul Levy says:

    I didn’t read anything about passengers in this feature. I believe they are developing this as an aerial tanker and military cargo ship.

  7. Dave says:

    I read about this a few years ago as a Boeing passenger concept aircraft. At the time a Boeing rep. said that this concept airplane was a myth and they were not developing anything like this. Looks like he lied.

    Jack Northrop had visions of a large passenger flying wing even before he developed the XB-35 and YB-49 flying wing bombers. I have a copy of the commercial made in the 40′s that was done to promote it to the airline companies. Technology is finally catching up with Jack’s dream.

  8. LP says:

    That is one UGLY airplane.

  9. Jim Bonnardel says:

    Passenger wings probably wont happen. Once you start putting passengers away from the center of roll rotation, they travel up and down too much.
    If a plane has a 100 ft wingspan, and rolls to 45 degrees from level, some passengers get positive G’s as they raise up, and the other passengers get negative Gs as they rotate down.

    Hard to serve drinks when you are at zero g.

    • Webster P says:

      Jim, that is a very good point that apparently no one is thinking about. Not only will food a drink delivery be a problem, but they had better plan on having an extra heavy supply of Barf Bags too!

  10. Webster P says:

    Far more cool than the dumb Mars rover that takes pictures not much better than my first version iPhone (1.3MP). Yawn.

  11. Les says:

    I’m glad to see Boeing moving outside the envelope. Being a Canadian, I still lament the destruction of the Avro Arow by the government who couldn’t see beyond the present day they lived in. Even the American government coundn’t support it because of politics. So the Arrow disapeared and the men and women who designed were hired by NASA to put a man on the moon.

    I wish Boeing well! Of course a new design will have problems that will be faced in the days to come. And they will be solved!!

    As an R>C> model builder, it is nice to see that the role of models is proving more worth while as well as having fun!

    GOOD LUCK AND HAPPY LASNDINGS!!

  12. Anonymous says:

    Why the X-48B pictures (several years old) instead of the new X-48C pictures?

    • Debra Cleghorn says:

      Because your favorite editor who posted this picked up some additional photos of the plane from the web to beef this up, and I clearly do not know the difference bettween the “B” and “C” versions. Nice catch! :-)

  13. Bob Alves says:

    The plane has great potial keep up good work. Swept wings has always been contraversial but you are in the right direction to make this work. To save fuel in flight and to fly longer is always a priority. Do not let anyone stair you away from that prospect. Besides the design looks great BOB….

  14. Brian Martin says:

    What would be the estimated cruise speed of the craft? I understand sub-sonic, but this could be fairly varied. Too slow would not be the modern trend.

  15. Roger Ingpen says:

    If Bob Hoover can roll an Aero Commander without spilling his tea I gues the positive G and negative G could be overcome by piloting technique.

  16. Eric Holmberg says:

    Where can I find cut away views and profiles of models A & B

  17. Gerry Yarrish says:

    Very cool. I love it where we see big aviation companies using actual models to test out aircraft designs

  18. jeff nickles says:

    Boeing did research and found out passengers don’t won’t to be in a plane where they can’t see out the windows. So you are right to say this will be more of a cargo/tanker platform.

  19. Dave says:

    I want their budget for my Hangar.
    As much as I like the design, should we not be developing aircraft for more important tasks than air to air refueling or heavy lift. We’ve got the aircraft for these deeds and they are great aircraft, will be for years to come.
    I’m also at a loss as to why they would opt to go subsonic in this day and age.
    One would think that the military would want an aircraft that could get from A to B as a rapidly as possible.
    This seems like an immense waste of huge proportion of taxpayers coin.
    I think Virgin is going in the right direction with their plans. Nasa and Boeing are showing their age, or their lack of a funding shortfall!

  20. K.N. "Jack" David says:

    I find it hard to believe that this aircraft is being seriously considered as a passenger carrying or even cargo aircraft. The practicability of loading/unloading flying wings or BWB aircraft is not any better now than it was in the 1940;s when Jack Northrop envisioned the flying wing as an efficient passenger carrying aircraft. However, what about the steath qualities of the platform? Personally I think we are seeing the next generation, low cost unmanned replacement for the B-2. All the current stealth designs are small aircraft. What will be needed to replace the B-2 will be a larger aircrarft, capable of long unrefueled range, and with a large bomb load. This platform may very well appear as a fully integrated modular system with the same airframe handling both bombing and tankering duties.

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