First Flight of X-48B Blended Wing Body Aircraft Prototype

Illustration for article titled First Flight of X-48B Blended Wing Body Aircraft Prototype

Click to viewHere's a pic of the new X-48B, Boeing's Blended Wing Body research aircraft in flight for the first time. The prototype, developed by Boeing Phantom Works with cooperation from NASA and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, flew for 31 minutes, reaching an altitude of 7,500 feet. Check the sexy gallery and jump for more details about the BWB.

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Boeing is at it again with one of their fantabolous X-designated planes. The plane flew from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California. This X-48B is only the second prototype that Boeing has built and the only one tested in flight; it was created to test the "structural, aerodynamic and operational efficiencies of the BWB concept," according to Bob Liebeck, the BWB program manager, especially during take off and landing.

BWB planes don't have a tail, the wing itself blends into the fuselage, giving more lift and less drag than a traditional circular fuselage. This means 30% less fuel consumption than a normal plane and also less noise, both inside and on the ground.

The composite-skinned aircraft uses three turbojet engines that enable it to fly up to 10,000 feet and 120 knots in its low-speed configuration. This X-48B prototype 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" making it the coolest RC/Plane and flight simulator videogame in history - in addition to being a kick ass machine, period.

Boeing's Tom Koehler said to us via email that "the X-48B that flew on July 20 is a small-scale unmanned prototype of the BWB concept" Still, it's quite a feat - and one that will hopefully develop into better, more efficient aircraft in the future. Who knows, maybe even beyond military uses, this design will find its way into cool commercial airplanes. [Boeing Phantom Works and NASA]

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DISCUSSION

If Boeing didn't have plans to deploy a BWB aircraft before, they certainly do now. First of all, Boeing's new composite technologies have made the design even more feasable than ever. The design is superior to the wing-and-tube approach in pretty much every way, and its runway requirements are much less restrictive.

Second, it's the perfect answer to the A380. If Boeing offers the BWB, they will have the 787, to which Airbus has no answer (the A350 project went down in flames, and nearly took the A380 with it) and the BWB, which offers identical capacity to the A380, with 30% lower operating costs.

I'd say it's pretty much go for flight.