Boeing/NASA Blended-Wing Experiment Ready To Launch

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Boeing's X-48B blended-wing-body (BWB) experimental aircraft is just about ready for its first test flight, Business 2.0 reported on Tuesday. The scale model, with a wingspan of 21 feet, should take to the air by the end of this month at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The aircraft has long been under development in a joint program involving NASA, the U.S. Air Force and Boeing's Phantom Works. The blended-wing design creates an aerodynamic shape that doesn't require a conventional tail, reducing drag and dramatically improving fuel efficiency. A military version of the aircraft could be on the market by 2022, with a passenger version flying by 2030.

Two scale models were built last year. Ship No. 1 was tested in a wind tunnel at NASA's Langley Research Center, then shipped to California to serve as a backup to Ship No. 2, which will be used for flight testing. Both phases of testing are focused on learning more about the low-speed flight-control characteristics of the BWB concept. "The X-48B prototypes have been dynamically scaled to represent a much larger aircraft and are being used to demonstrate that a BWB is as controllable and safe during takeoff, approach and landing as a conventional military transport airplane," said Norm Princen, Boeing Phantom Works chief engineer for the X-48B program. The Air Force is interested in the aircraft's potential to cost-effectively fill many roles such as tanking, weapons carriage and command and control. The two X-48B prototypes are built primarily of advanced lightweight composite materials and weigh about 400 pounds each. Powered by three turbojet engines, they will be capable of flying up to 120 knots and 10,000 feet in altitude during flight testing. The aircraft will be remotely controlled by a pilot.