You don’t usually think of flying crafts as environmentally friendly. All of them, from helicopters, commercial airplanes, to the most powerful fighter jets, consume huge quantities of non-renewable fuels while spewing atmosphere-destroying emissions. Their owners, though, are aware of the impact, and are researching ways to minimize it.
NASA is one such organization. In 2007, the federal agency teamed up with The Boeing Co. and Cranfield Aerospace to developed what is called a “blended wing body” aircraft. Designated X-48, this wedge-shaped, experimental unmanned aircraft was flown remotely by NASA personnel to showcase cleaner, more quiet, aircraft designs.
The latest version of the X-48, called the X-48C, took flight in August last year. It incorporated several changes from the B version. (The A version was canceled.) These include a longer wingspan, relocated wingtip winglets, and new engine configurations. According to NASA, X-48C could fly as high as 10,000 feet and possessed a top speed of 140 mph. The model’s software had to be updated to accommodate the new design and purpose.
States Bob Liebeck, Boeing program manager for the Blended Wing Body (BWB): “Working closely with NASA, we have been privileged throughout X-48 flight-testing to explore and validate what we believe is a significant breakthrough in the science of flight and this has been a tremendous success for Boeing. We have shown 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.”
The X-48B was flown over 90 times between 2007 and 2010, and the X-48C flew 30 flights. NASA used the latter craft to test for low-speed stability and noise reduction. Now, with the necessary data gathered, the planes are being retired. Many of their design concepts, though, may one day be found in future commercial aircraft.