Flight of the blended wing

1 min read

The X-48B remotely-piloted blended-wing aircraft took to the skies for the first time last Friday.

The X-48B remotely-piloted blended-wing aircraft took to the skies for the first time last Friday over NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, California.

Boeing's Phantom Works designed the 21ft wingspan, 500 pound  X-48B flight test vehicle in cooperation with NASA and the US Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, to gather detailed information about the stability and flight-control characteristics of blended wing body design, especially during takeoffs and landings.

The Boeing blended-wing body design resembles a flying wing, but differs in that the wing blends smoothly into a wide, flat, tailless fuselage. This fuselage blending provides additional lift with less drag compared to a circular fuselage, reducing fuel use at cruise conditions. Since the engines mount high on the back of the aircraft, there is less noise inside and on the ground when it is in flight.

Three turbojet engines enable the composite-skinned, 8.5 percent scale vehicle to fly up to 10,000ft and 120 knots in its low-speed configuration.

Last Friday, the aircraft was flown remotely from a ground-control station in which the pilot used conventional aircraft controls and instrumentation while looking at a monitor fed by a forward-looking camera on the aircraft.

Up to 25 flights low-speed flights are planned to gather more data on the aircraft. Then, the aircraft will be tested at transonic speeds to determine its noise and handling characteristics.

Two X-48B research vehicles - Ship 1 and Ship 2 -  were built by Cranfield Aerospace in Bedford, England, in accordance with Boeing's requirements.

The vehicle that flew on July 20 was Ship 2, which also was used for ground and taxi testing. Ship 1, a duplicate, completed extensive wind tunnel testing in 2006 at the full-scale tunnel at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Ship 1 will be available for use as a backup during the flight test program.