Boeing and NASA are testing blended-wing technologies that could lead to a revolution in airframe design. The experts contend we will see this new aircraft design flying the skies in 5-10 years.
Currently, both NASA and Boeing are exploring BWB designs under the designation X-48. Studies suggest that BWB aircraft, configured for passenger flight, could carry from 450 to 800 passengers with some designs having room for 1400 passengers and achieve fuel savings of over 20 percent. NASA has been developing, since 2000, a remotely controlled model with a 21 ft (6.4 m) wingspan. This research is focused on establishing the base data concerning the lift, stall and spin characteristics inherent in a Blended Wing Body design.
Ever since Boeing introduced the 707 in the 1950s, passenger jets have looked pretty much the same: long tubes with tails, engines mounted below the wings. That shape may one day be transformed into the graceful silhouette of a manta ray. In February, a 400-pound, 21-foot (6.4 m)-wide prototype of just such a bird will start practicing unmanned takeoffs, landings, and tricky slow-speed maneuvers at Edwards Air Force Base. Called the X-48B, it’s a scaled-down model of a theoretical 500-ton, 240-foot (73 m)-wide blended-wing aircraft. Aeronautical engineers have long known that this design could be much quieter, more fuel efficient, and far roomier than a conventional cylinder. But recent advances—lightweight composite materials, fly-by-wire controls, sophisticated flight systems—have made building one of these planes more feasible. Commercial versions have been proposed—imagine a flying auditorium—but the X-48B is more likely to debut as a US military transport plane circa 2022.