NASA X-48B Blended Wing aircraft complete first flight tests

A joint NASA/Boeing team has completed 80 flight tests on the composites-intensive X-48B, which is part of a project to create cleaner, quieter, more fuel-efficient aircraft.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced on April 5 that a joint NASA/Boeing team has completed the first phase of flight tests on the unique X-48B Blended Wing Body aircraft at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. The team completed the 80th and last flight of the project's first phase on March 19, 2010.

The remotely piloted, 500-lb/227-kg, composites-intensive airplane with the silhouette resembling a manta ray – also called a hybrid wing body -- is a tool of NASA's new Environmentally Responsible Aviation (ERA) Project, which aims to develop technology needed to create a quieter, cleaner, and more fuel-efficient airplane for the future.

"This project is a huge success," said Fay Collier, manager of the ERA Project in NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. "Bottom line: the team has proven the ability to fly tailless aircraft to the edge of the low-speed envelope safely." The team completed the 80th and last flight of the project's first phase on March 19, 2010, almost three years after the X-48B's first flight on July 20, 2007.

In the mid-2000s, NASA identified low-speed flight controls as a development challenge for aircraft such as the hybrid wing body. This challenge, and the challenge of building a non-circular, pressurized fuselage structure, have been the initial focuses of research since then. The ultimate goal is to develop technology for an environmentally friendly aircraft that makes less noise, burns less fuel, and emits less noxious exhaust.

The milestones accomplished by the team focused on three main technical objectives: flight envelope expansion, aircraft performance characterization, and validation of flight control software limiters.

Tests with the X-48B will continue later this year, after a new flight computer is installed and checked out. The next series of flight tests will focus on additional parameter identification investigations. NASA has a second hybrid wing body aircraft, the X-48C, which it has modified for a noise profile even lower than the X-48B's, and is preparing for test flights to investigate other controllability factors.