Boeing, NASA Complete X-48C Blended Wing Body Flights

 - May 3, 2013, 11:25 AM
The X-48C blended wing body research aircraft flew 30 times over eight months at NASA’s Dryden Research Center in California. (Photo: Chris Pocock)

Boeing and NASA said they completed the flight-test program of the X-48C blended wing body (BWB) research aircraft on April 9. The program consisted of 30 flights over eight months at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif.

The remotely piloted, subscale technology demonstrator was designed by Boeing, built by Cranfield Aerospace of the UK and flown in partnership with NASA and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory. The C model is a modified version of the earlier X-48B, which testers flew at NASA Dryden between 2007 and 2010. The two aircraft flew 122 times.

“We have shown that a BWB aircraft, which offers the tremendous promise of significantly greater fuel efficiency and reduced noise, can be controlled as effectively as a conventional tube-and-wing aircraft during takeoffs, landings and other low-speed segments of the flight regime,” said Bob Liebeck, Boeing’s BWB program manager.

Flight-testing of the X-48C began on August 7 last year. The tailless, 500-pound aircraft retained most of the dimensions of the B model, but was configured with two 89-pound-thrust turbojet engines instead of the three 50-pound-thrust engines that powered the earlier version. Its winglets were relocated inboard, next to the engines, and the aft deck was extended about two feet at the rear, Boeing said. The X-48C project team modified the flight control system software to account for differing handling qualities. The estimated top speed of the aircraft was 140 mph, with a maximum altitude of 10,000 feet.

Boeing and NASA said they plan to continue developing BWB technology with the aim of building a larger-scale, transonic demonstrator in the future. Boeing believes the concept could be developed in 15 to 20 years for military applications such as aerial refueling and cargo missions.

The Mojave Desert near Edwards AFB was the site of another flight milestone on April 29, when Virgin Galactic and Scaled Composites conducted the first rocket-powered flight of the SpaceShipTwo spaceplane from the Mojave Air and Space Port.