Blended-Wing Prototype Nears Flight Test
As the FAA struggles with the technology of the present, there is no shortage of ideas for the future of aviation. NASA recently has been testing its latest version of the X-48B, an advanced-concept, fuel-efficient blended-wing body, in the Langley wind tunnel in Hampton, Va. The 21-foot-wide prototype is scheduled to begin flight testing later this year. "The biggest difference between this aircraft and the traditional tube-and-wing aircraft is that this does not have a tail," said Dan Vicroy, a Langley research engineer. The wind-tunnel tests will help determine how to assure three-axis control. Two X-48B prototypes have been built, made primarily of advanced lightweight composite materials. Powered by three turbojet engines, the 400-pound aircraft will be capable of flying up to 120 knots and 10,000 feet, Boeing says. The prototypes will be unmanned and flown from a remote ground-control station. They are built to 8.5-percent scale, NASA said. The Air Force has expressed interest in the design's potential as a multi-role, long-range high-capacity military aircraft that could be used for tanking, weapons carriage and command-and-control missions. The technology could be ready in 10 to 15 years. Boeing is also investigating many other ideas, The Seattle Times reported on Monday. Advanced-concept researchers are envisioning jets of the future that will be quieter, more fuel-efficient, faster and easier to fly. To achieve those ends, strategies include forward-swept wings, canard configurations and unducted fans. Of course, good ideas are only half the battle. Even some tested technologies stall when faced with money problems. A runway-light experiment in Dallas, for example, has proven successful but is not being implemented elsewhere due to a lack of funding, consumeraffairs.com reported last week.