NASA Considers Five X-Plane Concepts

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Dzyne Technologies

Dzyne Technologies

NASA is now evaluating five proposed designs for an X-plane that will test new technologies that could help airliners to fly more quietly, burn less fuel and release fewer emissions than aircraft flying today. The concepts aim to address NASA’s goals for 2035, such as a 60 to 80 percent reduction in fuel consumption, greater than 80 percent reduction in emissions and reducing noise by more than 50 percent. “As of now, the plan is to begin implementation of the first subsonic X-Plane project around 2020, leading to a first flight in 2026,” said Fay Collier, NASA’s associate director for flight strategy. The five designs that will move forward were proposed by Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Aurora Flight Sciences and Dzyne Technologies.

Boeing proposed two designs, a blended-wing-body aircraft with the jet engines placed on top of the fuselage to shield the noise, and an airplane with a truss-brace that could support a long, narrow wing. Aurora’s Double Bubble D8 features two hull sections fused together, and a vertical stabilizer with a two-fin T-tail. Dzyne proposed a blended-wing-body design similar to Boeing’s but for a regional-airliner size aircraft. Lockheed Martin’s design features a hybrid wing body with twin engines mounted on pylons attached to and trailing the wing.

Aurora Flight Sciences

Aurora Flight Sciences

Boeing BWB

Boeing BWB

Boeing truss-braced wing

Boeing truss-braced wing

Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin

Comments (3)

The trouble I've always had with BWB is that, while great science and a leap forward, the design isn't scalable. With the current tube fuselage, it's relatively easy to add or subtract sections to alter the capacity of the aircraft, using mostly the same tooling, manufacturing fixtures, and training procedures. With BWB, the design of the fuselage is integral to the performance, manufacturing systems, service training, and so on. You need to start from scratch with each new design, which is much more costly.

Posted by: James Freal | August 28, 2017 5:53 AM    Report this comment

I've never understood how BWB doesn't result in enormous wetted area (and drag) compared to wing-and-tube, for a given amount of usable internal space.

Posted by: Thomas Boyle | August 28, 2017 9:26 AM    Report this comment

A 60-80% reduction in fuel consumption is a pretty tall order! I suspect that if it was technically feasible to do so, the engine and airframe manufacturers would already be doing it. Boeing made a big deal about the 787 being more fuel efficient, and it was only a few percent better than previous designs. Switching to hydrogen fuel would cut CO2 emissions, but would still put large amounts of water vapor in the upper atmosphere. Some folks consider that pollution. And, we get most pure hydrogen from hydrocarbons so there is still CO2 emissions.

Oh, and don't expect electric power to solve the problem. Unless there is a quantum leap forward in battery technology, electric long-haul airliners are pie in the sky.

Posted by: John McNamee | August 30, 2017 2:52 PM    Report this comment

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