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 Boeing X-48 Dauntless Software

Boeing X-48
November 21 2007

The X-48 is an experimental aircraft currently under development by Boeing and NASA for investigation into the characteristics of blended wing body aircraft, a type of flying wing.

Development

The Boeing Phantom Works is currently developing the blended wing body (BWB) aircraft concept in cooperation with the NASA Langley Research Center. In a continuing effort to study the flight characteristics of the BWB design, a small remote-controlled model has been successfully flown. The next step was to fly the X-48A in 2004, which was to be built at NASA Langley, but that program was later canceled.

Boeing Phantom Works is focusing current research on a pair of models, called the X-48B, which were built under contract by Cranfield Aerospace in the United Kingdom. Norm Princen, Boeing's chief engineer for the project, said, "Earlier wind-tunnel testing and the upcoming flight testing are focused on learning more about the BWB's low-speed flight-control characteristics, especially during takeoffs and landings. Knowing how accurately our models predict these characteristics is an important step in the further development of this concept.

The two X-48Bs have a 21-foot wingspan, weigh 500 pounds and are built from composite materials. They are powered by three small turbojet engines and are expected to fly at up to 120 knots and reach an altitude of 10,000 feet.

NASA performed wind tunnel tests on Ship 1, an 8.5% scale model, at a facility shared by Langley and Old Dominion University in May 2006. After the wind tunnel testing, the vehicle was shipped to NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base where it will serve as a backup to Ship 2 for flight testing. Initially, ground testing at Dryden is expected to begin in November 2006, and will serve to validate the aircraft's systems integrity, telemetry and communications links, flight-control software and taxi and takeoff characteristics. Flight tests are scheduled for early 2007.

Design

The Econmist wrote the following in an article in June 2006: "Boeing once toyed with a blended wing-body, a sort of flying wing, to produce dramatically betteraerodynamics and fuel efficiency. Passengers would have sat in a wide cabin, rather like a small amphitheater. But tests with a mock-up produced such a negative reaction that the company dropped the technology, except for military refueling aircraft. In fact, the original concept of a blended wing-body goes back to the jet bombers the Germans were designing at the very end of World War II. This concept was also developed at McDonnell Douglas in the '90s, just prior to their merging into Boeing, and was presented during an annual Joint AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEA Propulsion Conference in the US a few years ago. The McDonnell Douglas engineers were confident their design had all the advantages mentioned, but their concept found no favor at Boeing. The most difficult problem they solved was that of ensuring passengers a safeand fast escape in case of an accident, since emergency door locations were completely different from those in a conventional aircraft.

Wired wrote the following in an article in February 2007: Thinking Outside the Tube:

Ever since Boeing introduced the 707 in the 1950s, passenger jets have looked pretty much the same: long tubes with tails, engines mountedbelow the wings. That shape may one day be transformed into the graceful silhouette of a manta ray. In February, a 400-pound, 21-foot-wide prototype of just such a bird will start practicing unmanned takeoffs, landings, and tricky slow-speed maneuvers at Edwards Air Force Base. Called the X-48B, it's a scaled-down model of a theoretical 500-ton, 240-foot-wide blended-wing aircraft. Aeronautical engineers have long known that this design could be much quieter, more fuel efficient, and far roomier than a conventional cylinder. But recent advances—lightweight composite materials, fly-by-wire controls, sophisticated flight systems—have made building one of these planes more feasible. Commercial versions have been proposed—imagine a flying auditorium—but the X-48B is more likely to debut as a US military transport plane circa 2022.

The BWB concept reportedly offers greater structural, aerodynamic and operating efficiencies than today's more conventional tube-and-wing designs. Its modular design also allows for center body growth while maintaining common wings. These features translate into greater range, fuel economy, reliability and life cycle savings, as well as lower manufacturing costs. They also allow for a wide variety of potential military and commercial applications.


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