NASA Readies Blended Wing Craft for First Flight

Nothing gets Dvice.com more excited than a new generation of X-Plane.

Monday, Jul 16, 2012  |  Updated 9:02 AM PDT
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NASA Readies Blended Wing Craft for First Flight

Daniel Terdiman, CNET

NASA readies X-48C blended wing demonstrator for first flight.

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Nothing gets Dvice.com more excited than a new generation of X-Plane, and we just found out about the latest design that NASA's getting ready to test: it's the X-48C, a blended wing body aircraft with the potential to be turned into a futuristic military transport and, just possibly, a passenger aircraft.

The first X-48 sub-scale concept was developed by McDonnell Douglas in the late 90s, and after the company merged with Boeing, Boeing's Phantom Works took it over. The 'B' version of the X-48, with a 21 foot wingspan (scaled down from a 240-foot wide design), was the first to take to the air in 2007, and is still undergoing test flights in 2012. "Blended wing body" means that the X-48 is made up almost entirely of a lifting surface that doubles as a payload compartment, sort of like a B-2 bomber, except moreso. The advantages of this design are numerous, and include a huge amount of space for payload, a 30% increase in fuel economy, as well as greater range, better reliability, and cheaper manufacturing costs.

The X-48C, currently under construction at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in the Mojave desert in California, is designed to test new engine configurations, like engines mounted above the fuselage and slightly forward to more effectively prevent noise from reaching the ground. It's still just a small, remote controlled demonstrator (at less than 10% of the size of what would eventually be the real thing), but there's a real possibility that we could see a full-scale version take to the air at some point in the future.

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