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It's Time to Plan for the Hybrid Wing Body
May 30, 2013

David McBride

David McBride

The X-48 Blended Wing Body remotely piloted aircraft in two different iterations completed 122 flights, which makes it the most extensively flown unmanned X-Plane research project. Now that it is complete, we must begin planning for a human piloted, near full-scale Hybrid Wing Body aircraft.

The X-48 project established the low-speed stability and control concept and its operations from ground to flight. The project team also modified the flight control system software, making it suitable for future development of a potential full-scale commercial hybrid or blended wing aircraft.

However, it is difficult for a commercial company to accept all of the risk of new technological breakthroughs by building a near full-scale demonstrator on its own. It is simply too risky to bet the company on a new radical aircraft configuration. But a partnership on such a manned X-Plane could deliver that future transport aircraft business to American industry.

It is the role of government and NASA to deliver technology ready for use to encourage growth and innovation in the private sector. Just as NASA and The Boeing Company partnered with the Air Force Research Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio, and Cranfield Aerospace Limited of the United Kingdom to create the X-48 project, a partnership could be forged for a near full-scale Hybrid Wing Body technology demonstrator that will provide the evidence required for the private sector to run with the new technologies.

The aircraft is predicted to be 20 to 40 percent more fuel efficient, while reducing the noise and air pollution usually associated with large transport aircraft - all key goals for NASA's Environmentally Responsible Aviation initiative.

Dryden has proven through prior research projects that to fly what others only imagine requires testing the aircraft. Only through flight can a research team adequately shake out the glitches in the actual test environment with an aircraft that closely approximates the size and characteristics of a near full-scale aircraft.

Dryden Director David McBride, right, shows the X-48C to NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate Associate Administrator Jaiwon Shin, center, and Robert Pearce, ARMD director for strategy, architecture and analysis.Dryden Director David McBride, right, shows the X-48C to NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate Associate Administrator Jaiwon Shin, center, and Robert Pearce, ARMD director for strategy, architecture and analysis. NASA / Cam Martin › View Larger Image Whatever challenges a Hybrid Wing Body aircraft exhibits in shape, systems or integration, Dryden is the place for this work. The wind tunnel models have proven the concept. The X-48 project and its two iterations have further built confidence. Now it's time to build a Hybrid Wing Body aircraft and allow the nation and NASA's aeronautics to soar.

Technology and advancing technology to the point where concepts like the X-48 become viable products will make an impact on jobs in the United States. If a product like the Hybrid Wing Body aircraft can get to the market, it will own the market.

With confidence established in the new aircraft configuration, commercial air carriers, mail and package companies and U.S. military and its allies would want it. Confidence would lead to orders for aircraft proven to be as efficient as we say it will perform.

Aeronautics is a small part of the NASA budget, but it is inspiring to think what an investment in the Hybrid Wing Body could mean. It would give industry an edge, put people to work and assist in reducing noise and air pollution.

We are not the only ones thinking about the Hybrid Wing Body and the impact NASA aeronautics can have on the world with constrained resources. During a U.S. House of Representatives Science, Space, and Technology Committee hearing April 17, 2013, Dr. John P. Holdren, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Rep. Mark Tanako, D-Calif., discussed the critical impact of NASA and industry partnerships to develop technology.

The congressman said he was impressed with the X-48 research he learned about on a recent visit to Dryden. Tanako and Holdren talked about the need for partnerships like those on the X-48 and the need to ensure U.S. aeronautical research stays ahead of the rest of the world.

When statements are made about the value of aeronautics in a meeting such as that, it is critical. This recognition of aeronautics and its importance to the aerospace industry in the United States is a good start.

In addition, Dryden has worked hard to maintain its wide range of competencies exactly for opportunities like this. We will be ready when the next X-Plane arrives at Dryden to once again change the world and its perceptions of what an aircraft can be.

Congratulations to the X-48 team on its successful completion of that project. Now lets take the steps as a nation to test a new X-Plane so the people of the U.S. can benefit from this work and the nation can remain number one in aeronautics.

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Page Last Updated: August 8th, 2013
Page Editor: NASA Administrator