Chicago (IL) – Boeing has test flown a new airplane concept that is designed to reduce noise and fuel consumption, but will not be available in this and most likely not even in the next decade.
The X-48B – one of two prototypes currently in existence – plane reached an altitude of 7500 ft and flew for about 31 minutes on July 20 at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California, Boeing said today. It was the first flight of the 21-foot wingspan, 500-pound unmanned test vehicle, which has been discussed by Boeing several times since early last year.
The company said that the test flights of the plane, which was developed by Boeing Phantom Works in cooperation with NASA and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, are conducted to gather detailed information about the stability and flight-control characteristics of the blended wing body (BWB) design. Compared to a regular plane, the X-48B does not have a circular fuselage, but a rather flat and wide fuselage that seamlessly melts into the wings. The test planes also do not have tail wings.
According to Boeing, the current X-48Bs are equipped with three turbojet engines that enable the design to reach an altitude of up to 10,000 feet at 120 knots (about 138 mph) in a low-speed configuration. The unmanned aircraft is remotely piloted from a ground control station in which the pilot uses conventional aircraft controls and instrumentation while looking at a monitor fed by a forward-looking camera on the aircraft.
Boeing believes that the design of the new plane will translate into reduced fuel consumption as well as less noise on the ground and the air due to the engines being mounted high on the back of the aircraft.
The fact that the airline industry has relatively long product cycles and long development times means that this plane, if tested successfully, will not be in our immediate future. Right now, we were told, Boeing is considering the design of the X-48B for military applications such as tanker and cargo planes. There are no plans to use the design for a commercial plane within a 20 year time frame, a Boeing representative told us.