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25 test flights envisioned for its 1-year long testing phase

The Air Force's X-48B has a date with Edwards Air Force base at the end of this year. The research plane, which is a joint development between the Air Force, Boeing and NASA, used a blending wing body which promises greater lift and up to 30% greater fuel economy. The Air Force sees the design as having the potential for a "multi-role, long-range, high-capacity military transport aircraft."

The blended wing design is nothing new as the B-2 Spirit bomber uses a similar approach. That plane is known for its stealth abilities as well as its high-maintenance needs. The test program will feature two remote-controlled aircraft built on a 1/12 scale. Each will be powered by three jet engines and will feature a wingspan of 21 feet. The ceiling will be set at 10,000 feet and speeds will be limited to 135 MPH during the 25 test flights planned for 2007. From LA Daily News:

The aircraft will be flown by a pilot in a ground station equipped in such way to give the feeling of actually being in the aircraft. Instead of a computer joystick, it'll have a stick and rudder pedals from an actual aircraft, and video from the aircraft will be transmitted to the station to provide an out-the-cockpit-window view.

The military also has other blending wing prototypes waiting in the wings. The X-45C unmanned combat aerial vehicle can carry eight 250 lb bombs in its weapons bay, has a top speed of 650MPH and has a service ceiling of 40,000 feet.

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Fuel Economy Wha?
By littlebitstrouds on 5/30/2006 1:13:19 PM , Rating: 3
30% greater fuel economy

Wow, when the selling power of a military jet is it's fuel economy, you know we're in an energy crises.

What I want to know is, can it hold a big gulp in its cup holder. No? Then it's worthless to me.

RE: Fuel Economy Wha?
By AnnihilatorX on 5/30/2006 1:21:42 PM , Rating: 2
Energy crisis = higher cost of fuel (running and maintenance cost) and a burden on oil reserve (military supply in case of war)

It's very logical

RE: Fuel Economy Wha?
By DEMO24 on 5/30/2006 1:27:38 PM , Rating: 2
ability to go farther on a tank of fuel makes perfect sense to me

RE: Fuel Economy Wha?
By PT2006 on 5/30/2006 1:26:35 PM , Rating: 2
It's a UAV. You don't want to have to refuel it all the time, that defeats the whole purpose to have a refueling aircraft or making it land. The thing is designed to loiter over an area for days.

RE: Fuel Economy Wha?
By Wwhat on 5/30/2006 1:34:07 PM , Rating: 2
The Air Force sees the design as having the potential for a "multi-role, long-range, high-capacity military transport aircraft."

UAV eh... models are always small you know.

RE: Fuel Economy Wha?
By Master Kenobi on 5/30/2006 1:55:08 PM , Rating: 2
Well if the prorotypes pan out well at 1/12th the size, theres no reason they can't make a few adjustments... It's apparently going to have long range communcation and video feeds, its already equipped for surveilance. I could see some of these entering service as unmanned missile ships. Who can argue with a little remote controlled plane that can circle an area for days carrying 2 250lb JDAM or Hellfire missiles? At the very least the CIA could apply some B2 technology and insta-stealth UAV.

RE: Fuel Economy Wha?
By freon on 5/30/2006 2:55:49 PM , Rating: 2
It is a UCAV (Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle). There are currently 3 designs in testing. I believe 2 are for us (Air Force), and one for the Navy. I have never seen or heard anything saying it will be a personnel transport vehicle.. Obviously, the vehicle type designator points out the lack of people on board.

RE: Fuel Economy Wha?
By freon on 5/30/2006 3:08:38 PM , Rating: 2
Scratch that.. I just got my pupils dialated so I can hardly read. Without looking close enough, I thought it said X-45. lol
I heard about the 48 a while back and remember hearing they were looking at it as having one use as a possible equipment transporter. Haven't heard anything about people though. It's probably too early in testing to know.

RE: Fuel Economy Wha?
By bob5820 on 5/31/2006 5:49:45 AM , Rating: 2
Actually, the Global Hawk, has a wingspan of 116 feet (35.3 meters) and is 44 feet (13.4 meters) long. That's about the same wing span as a G5 business jet.

By vingamm on 5/30/2006 12:59:41 PM , Rating: 2
Is this an unmanned aircraft or is that feature just for the prototype?

RE: Question
By theaerokid on 5/30/2006 1:29:30 PM , Rating: 2
That feature applies mostly to the prototype. It's much easier to develop aircraft to test concepts with unmanned prototypes. They may well use the results of this technology demonstrator to design other aircraft, manned and unmanned.

RE: Question
By rcc on 5/30/2006 5:21:14 PM , Rating: 2
I'd have to differ with you almost completely here. It's easier to test an aircraft and it's concepts with a real live pilot that can feel, hear, see, and smell what the airframe etc. is doing. There is no substitute for hands-on. Particularly when you aren't sure something is working as it aught to.

What the unmanned prototypes are is safer. Which makes it easier to budget and push radically different approaches.

RE: Question
By theaerokid on 5/30/2006 7:05:36 PM , Rating: 2
I guess we'd have to expand the definition of "easy" for the sake of discussion. I look at easy from the perspective of achieving the scientific objective with the shortest timespan and lowest project cost. These not being the golden days of aviation, pilot safety is a much bigger part of the schedule and budget. Computer pilots are cheap and readily available off-the-shelf for less than half the cost of the life support systems required for a manned vehicle.

While I agree there is no substitute for pilot feel, consider two things. In the age of fly-by-wire and inherent instability, what the pilot "feels" is greatly filtered through the Stability Augmentation Systems, although it's ultimately valuable feedback. Secondly, I'd rather have the 170 lbs of sensors gather all sorts of useful data for the scientific objective, than 170 lbs of pilot meat to pull out of a burning wreckage just to hear him tell me that "it feels good". I got a lot of mileage out of merely a good video and the data stream from a 6-axis Inertial Measurement Unit putting out 100 frames of data per second. I data stream of even moderate resolution can highlight events that a pilot can't feel or quantify.

RE: Question
By freon on 5/30/2006 2:57:20 PM , Rating: 2
It is an unmanned design, not just for testing.

Missing something...
By spindoc on 5/30/2006 11:30:38 AM , Rating: 2
used a blending wing body which promises greater and up to 30% greater fuel economy.

Greater ______ and up to 30% greater fuel economy

Lift? Aerodynamics?

RE: Missing something...
By formulav8 on 5/30/2006 11:38:00 AM , Rating: 2

RE: Missing something...
By DEMO24 on 5/30/2006 11:39:52 AM , Rating: 2

RE: Missing something...
By Brandon Hill on 5/30/2006 11:39:52 AM , Rating: 2
Trebek: The correct answer is lift.


3 engines?!
By Xenoterranos on 5/30/2006 12:04:49 PM , Rating: 2
I wonder if the final design will use three engines, and where the final engine placement will be. Three in a row on the back/top doesn't seem like an optimal config to me...

RE: 3 engines?!
By McTwist on 5/30/2006 12:58:17 PM , Rating: 2
In general, when an aircraft is being tested like this, it is in the final configuration. Otherwise, the whole aircraft must be tested again, because the dynamic stability of the aircraft depends quite a bit on the placement of the engines (especially for blended wing bodies).
What do you consider to be the optimal configuration?

RE: 3 engines?!
By theaerokid on 5/30/2006 1:46:11 PM , Rating: 2
Well, this is mostly a technology demonstrator, so there is no real "final design". Generally, they just collect a bunch of data to validate the design features and use that data for developing practical aircraft.

Having said that, the engine count will depend on the availability of an engine that meets the size and power requirements of the aircraft in development. And, as mentioned, using more of the smaller engines gives more options when you play games to optimize the weight distribution. Also, low reliability engines generally require a higher engine count for redundancy in an engine-out condition. Boeing actually reversed this trend in the 777 by using only two high-reliability GE (I believe) engines instead of the four used in the 747.

The aft placement of the engines is almost as good as it gets. The engines on top usually are harmful on fighters where turbulent airflow (resulting from maneuvering) may stall the engine. In fact, the suction from the inlets may even help keep the flow over the top surface smooth. Other concerns like missile vulnerability, stealth, etc also may take precedence over aerodynamic concerns.

Sorry for the long response, but the concept of an "optimal config" is complicated and more of a black magic than an exact science.

Redundant radio?
By GoatMonkey on 5/30/2006 12:53:18 PM , Rating: 2
It would be interesting to hear how they plan on always having a good connection to control the thing, what kind of encryption level they're using to keep enemies from hijacking/hacking it.

RE: Redundant radio?
By Creig on 5/30/2006 1:10:56 PM , Rating: 3
I'm sure the U.S. military will make it virtually impossible for any foreign power to gain illicit control of these aircraft.

Whether or not they can keep out a bored 12 year old with a computer is another matter.

By Mudvillager on 5/30/2006 2:45:51 PM , Rating: 1

RE: tiny
By Merry on 5/30/2006 3:14:24 PM , Rating: 2
as a line from a great Monty Python film said;

'Its only a model'

RE: tiny
By nombrecinq on 5/30/2006 4:29:05 PM , Rating: 2
They say this is a 1/12 model, which means the real one will be a huge mofo.

It is NOT designed to be a UAV
By kextyn on 5/30/2006 4:57:59 PM , Rating: 2
Only this 1/12 scale prototype is unmanned. If you think otherwise then explain this picture:

Those fans...
By The Battōsai on 5/30/2006 11:41:37 PM , Rating: 2
We'll at least needs fans that big to cool the P4^12 EE edition

Cool a Stealth Cargo Plane
By Einy0 on 5/31/2006 12:17:37 AM , Rating: 2
How sweet is this. Let's use the new stealth cargo to supply drop a few kegs of beer to our troops holding the frontline, or better yet. Let's drop 30 tons of rubber dog crap and giant rubber dongs on the enemies Head Quarters, they won't even know where the hell it came from. Now that's taking shet to a whole new level. No seriously this could be useful for dropping paratroopers behind enemy lines and stuff like that. Just seems really wierd the whole idea of a stealth cargo plane, interesting thou...

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