The collaborative efforts of the Boeing Co. of Chicago, Ill., NASA's Fundamental Aeronautics Program, and the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio culminated on the first flight of the X-48B Blended Wing Body research aircraft on July 20, 2007. The experienced flight research team kept a watchful eye as the 21-foot wingspan, 500-pound, remotely piloted test vehicle took off for the first time at 8:42 a.m. PDT and climbed to an altitude of 7,500 feet before landing 31 minutes later.
"Friday's flight marked yet another aviation first achieved by a very hard-working Boeing, NASA, AFRL, and Cranfield team," said Gary Cosentino, Dryden's Blended Wing Body project manager for NASA's Subsonic Fixed Wing Project. "The X-48B flew as well as we had predicted, and we look forward to many productive data flights this summer and fall."
In addition to hosting the X-48B flight test and research activities, NASA provided engineering and technical support - expertise garnered from years of operating cutting-edge air vehicles. NASA assisted with the hardware and software validation and verification process, the integration and testing of the aircraft systems, and the pilot's ground control station. NASA's range group provided critical telemetry and command and control communications during the flight, while the flight operations group provided a T-34 chase aircraft and essential flight scheduling. Photo and video support completed the effort.
The Subsonic Fixed Wing Project team under the Fundamental Aeronautics Program has long supported the development of the blended wing body concept. It has participated in numerous collaborations with Boeing, as well as several wind tunnel tests for different speed regimes. The team is focused on researching the low-speed characteristics of the design and expanding its flight envelope beyond the limits of current capabilities.
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 prior research on the aerodynamic performance and controllability of the shape, including comparisons of the flight data with the extensive wind-tunnel database.
The X-48B flight test vehicles were designed to gather detailed information about the stability and flight-control characteristics of the blended wing body design, especially during takeoffs and landings. The 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 than a traditional circular fuselage, translating into reduced fuel use at cruise conditions. Since the engines can be mounted on the top surface of the configuration there is a potential for significant noise reduction on the ground.
Three turbojet engines enable the composite-skinned, 8.5 percent scale 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.
Up to 25 flights are planned to gather data in these low-speed flight regimes. Then, the X-48B may be used to test the aircraft's low-noise and handling characteristics at transonic speeds.
Two X-48B research vehicles were built by Cranfield Aerospace Ltd., in Bedford, England, in accordance with Boeing requirements. The vehicle that flew on July 20 is Ship 2, which also was used for ground and taxi testing. Ship 1, a duplicate, completed extensive wind tunnel testing in 2006 at the Full-Scale Tunnel at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. Ship 1 will be available for use as a backup during the flight test program.
For more information about NASA Dryden Flight Research Center and its research projects, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/dryden on the Internet.
A high resolution photo of the X-48B is available at: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/dryden/images/content/182936main_X-48B_First_Flight.jpg
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