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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