I’ll make a confession. Some people like cars. I like planes. More like, I love them, especially when it comes to planes that do not follow current design conventions like the X-48 from Boeing Phantom Works and NASA. Why? I don’t know. I just like it when people try new things perhaps.
Anyway, the X-48 is an experimental technology demonstrator aircraft that was created to test the blended-wing-body (BWB) design. BWB aircraft has a flattened airfoil shaped body, much like a flying wing albeit having a definite fuselage, that produces much of the lift with wings contributing to balance. The futuristic design of a BWB has a lift-to-drag ratio of 50% compared to conventional aircraft which contributes to increased fuel-efficiency. The wider fuselage also improves the payload capability of the airplane compared to others of the same footprint. The design is also known to be less noisy than similarly sized aircraft. Using the design for commercial aircraft may introduce challenges with layout out emergency exit routes plus less windows for passengers to view from but the planes design would be great for air freight and military purposes such as aerial refueling.
The new revision of the design – the X-48C, modified from the X-48B – took first flight yesterday lifting off from Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The changes include decreasing the number of jet engines from three to two and mounting them further forward from the extended trailing edge, and moving the wingtip vertical tails inboard closer to the engines. The new design configuration was supposed to be low-noise but it seems that the low-bypass AMT engines ruled out any possible acoustic evaluation. Boeing is now hoping to use the X-48C as a stepping stone for a scaled BWB demonstrator that is large enough for a pilot to fly. The plane is scheduled for around 25 test flights until December.
Here’s a video of the first test flight: