The flying wing concept aircraft takes flight

Looking a little bit too much like an F-117 Night Hawk fighter on steroids Boeing's blended wing unmanned test aircraft flew for the first time last week.

Designed and engineered by Boeing, NASA and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, the aircraft are said to be able to carry greater amounts of equipment, burn less fuel and run quieter than traditional aircraft.

Ultimately its designers see it as a manned multi-role, long-range, high-capacity military aircraft.

NASA says these initial 8.5% scale model flights will validate the research on the aerodynamics and controllability of the shape, including comparisons of the flight data with the extensive wind-tunnel database.

Researchers are looking particularly at the stability and flight-control characteristics of the blended wing body design, especially during takeoffs and landings.

The Boeing blended wing body design resembles a flying wing, but differs in that the wing blends smoothly into a wide, flat, tailless fuselage. This fuselage blending provides additional lift with less drag compared to a circular fuselage, translating to reduced fuel use at cruise conditions.

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. Three turbojet engines enable the composite-skinned vehicle to fly up to 10,000 feet and 120 knots in its low-speed configuration.

The aircraft is flown remotely 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, according tot the Boeing site.

"The biggest difference between this aircraft and the traditional tube and wing aircraft is that this does not have a tail," said Dan Vicroy, senior research engineer at NASA Langley.

"The whole reason you have a tail is for stability and control. So what we want to do with this wind tunnel test is to look at how different multiple control surfaces can be used to control this particular vehicle." The team has produced two high-tech prototypes of the BWB, built to Boeing specifications by Cranfield Aerospace in England, for wind tunnel and flight-testing.

The Air Force has designated the vehicles as the "X-48B" based on its interest in the design's potential as a multi-role, long-range, high-capacity military aircraft.

The two X-48B prototypes were built for Boeing Phantom Works by Cranfield Aerospace, in the United Kingdom.

The notion of flying or blended wing aircraft is not new. The current B-2 stealth bomber is the best example. Boeing and other aircraft designers have had flying wing commercial airliners in the works for years.

Inventive wing desing is part of the micro-aircraft, the RoboSwift announced last week.

The RoboSwift can sweep its wings back and forth, changing the shape and the wing's surface area. The idea is to make the aircraft fly more efficiently than fixed-wing aircraft. The micro-airplane is powered by a special propeller that folds during gliding to minimize air drag. RoboSwift steers by sweeping back one wing more than the other. The difference in wing position lets RoboSwift make very sharp turns.

Resembling the common swift, RoboSwift will be able to go undetected while using its three micro cameras to perform surveillance on vehicles and people on the ground. While its creators don't list a military application for the RoboSwift you could easily see the Pentagon knocking on their door for a look-see. In fact the US Army has been looking at such aircraft to be used in a variety of applications, such as surveillance, reconnaissance, intelligence gathering.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

IT Salary Survey 2021: The results are in