On July 20, the innovative looking Boeing Blended Wing Body (BWB) research aircraft, the X-48B flew for the first time at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California on an experimental flight.
The UFA-shaped 21-foot wingspan, 500 pound unmanned test vehicle took off for the first time at 8:42 a.m. PDT and climbed to an altitude of 7500 feet before landing 31 minutes later.
According to Bob Liebeck, BWB program manager for Boeing Phantom Works, the company’s advanced R&D unit, “We’ve successfully passed another milestone in our work to explore and validate the structural, aerodynamic and operational efficiencies of the BWB concept.”
“We already have begun to compare actual flight-test data with the data generated earlier by our computer models and in the wind tunnel,” he added.
The X-48B flight test vehicle was developed by Boeing Phantom Works in co-operation with NASA and the US Air Force Research Laboratory to gather detailed information about the stability and flight-control characteristics of the BWB design, mainly during takeoffs and landings.
As of now, up to 25 flights have been planned to gather data in these low-speed flight regimes. In fact, following completion of low-speed flight testing, the X-48B will most probably be used to test the BWB’s low-noise characteristics, as well as BWB’s handling characteristics at transonic speeds.
Two X-48B research vehicles have been built. In fact, the vehicle that flew on July 20 is Ship 2, which was also used for ground and taxi testing.
Ship 1, which is no doubt a duplicate of Ship 2, completed extensive wind tunnel testings in 2006 at the Old Dominion University NASA Langley Full-Scale Tunnel in Virginia. Ship 1 will be used as a backup during the flight test program.
So what’s the X48B got that other boeing defense flying machines do not have? The X-48B has three turbojet engines that enable the composite-skinned research vehicle to fly up to 10,000 feet and 120 knots in its low-speed configuration.
The Boeing BWB design resembles a flying wing, but it differs in the sense that the wing blends smoothly into a wide flat, tailless fuselage which helps to get additional lift with less drag compared to circular fuselage.
Also, since the engines mount high on the back of the aircraft, there is less noise inside and on the ground when it is in flight.
According to Bob Krieger, Boeing chief technology officer and president of Phantom Works, “Whiel Boeing constantly explores and applies innovative technologies to enhance its current and next-generation products; the X-48B is a good example of how Boeing also looks much farther into the future at revolutionary concepts that promise even greater breakthroughs in flight.”
NASA is interested in the potential benefits of the aircraft: increased volume for carrying capacity, efficient aerodynamics for reduced fuel burn and possibly significant reductions in noise due to propulsion integration options. In these initial flights, the principal focus is to validate the research on the aerodynamics and controllability of the shape, including comparisons of the flight data with the extensive wind-tunnel database.