The flight testing campaign of the X-48C Blended Wing Body (BWB, aka Hybrid Wing Body) research aircraft kicked off on August 7, 2012, at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center. Eight months later the campaign has come to a close with the 30th and final flight carried out on April 12. NASA plans to use the data gathered over the campaign to aid in the design of future “green” airliners that are quieter and more fuel-efficient than conventional aircraft, while Boeing is touting the design’s potential military applications.
Unlike flying wing designs such the Stealth Bomber that lack a definitive fuselage, BWB designs have separate wing structures that are smoothly blended into a flattened and airfoil-shaped body. The purpose of the recently-completed flight testing campaign was to establish base data relating to the lift, stall and spin characteristics of the BWB design that promises increased fuel economy and range due to the entire aircraft contributing to lift generation…
In an effort to reduce the X-48B’s noise profile and study its low speed stability its wingtip winglets were moved inboard on either side of the engines – effectively turning them into twin tails – its fuselage was extended at the rear by about two feet (0.6 m), and its three 50-pound thrust jet engines were replaced with two 89-pound thrust engines. The result was the X-48C, which boasts the same 21-foot (6.4 m) wingspan and approximate 500 lb (227 kg) weight as the X-48B that made 92 flights between 2007 and 2010.
In the evolution from X-48B to X-48C, the aircraft’s flight control system software was also modified to account for the different handling qualities of the two models. The team says this enabled a stronger and safer prototype flight control system that is suitable for future full-scale commercial blended wing aircraft…
“We have accomplished our goals of establishing a ground-to-flight database, and proving the low speed controllability of the concept throughout the flight envelope,” said Fay Collier, manager of NASA’s Environmentally Responsible Aviation project. “Very quiet and efficient, the hybrid wing body has shown promise for meeting all of NASA’s environmental goals for future aircraft designs.”
We probably won’t see anything looking like this in passenger/cargo/civilian aircraft for a couple of decades. And Boeing admits their first probable customers will be Uncle Sugar’s Air Force.
Which means you and I get to pay for them instead of some airline. Still – it is an interesting looking critter and hopefully produced research which will aid all aircraft construction.