In just ten years, a plane that flies using a radical hybrid wing shaped body could become a reality.
A scale version of the ‘Blended Wing Body’ (BWB) aircraft is currently being tested at a Nasa facility.
The triangle-shaped plane, that could one day be used by the US military, is reminiscent of spy planes and designed to cut through the air more efficiently.
Boeing is developing the plane alongside Nasa, and testing at the Nasa Langley Research Center in Virginia, in a 14- by 22-foot (4.2 by 6.7 metre) subsonic tunnel, and will continue testing until the end of September.
In the BWB design, the wing blends seamlessly into the body of the aircraft, which makes it extremely aerodynamic and creates dramatic cuts in fuel consumption, noise and emissions.
Boeing and Nasa researchers are using a 6 per cent scale, 13-foot-wingspan model to test their designs.
The researchers will be mapping the flow of air over the aircraft using lasers and smoke with a technique known as particle imagery velocimetry (PIV).
‘We’re happy to have the model back in our wind tunnel,’ said Dan Vicroy, principal investigator at Nasa Langley.
‘It gives us a couple of opportunities – to add to our knowledge about this configuration as well as how to improve our testing methods.’
The same model was put through its paces in the Langley 14-by 22-Foot tunnel in 2014 and in the 40-by 80-foot wind tunnel at Nasa’s Ames Research Center in California in 2015.
But for this test it looks slightly different. The top of it has been painted in non-reflective matte black to accommodate laser lights that will sweep across the model in sheets.
‘Testing the same model in two very different tunnels gives us data to make our test methods better,’ he added. ‘Plus these tests will let us do PIV – something we didn’t do before.’
The testing builds on years of research into the BWB aircraft shape.
For example in 2012, Nasa successfully tested the X-48C – another ‘hybrid wing-body’ plane with a greater internal volume for passengers and cargo.
With a 21 ft (6.54 metre) wingspan, the aircraft was an 8.5 per cent scale model of a heavy-lift, subsonic airplane with a 240-foot wingspan.
‘Our tests are a continuation of more than two decades of successful research and development of this concept, which is unparalleled in industry,’ said John Bonet, Boeing’s test director for the BWB.
‘What we learn from this round of testing will be used to complete the definition of our aerodynamic, stability and control low-speed databases – a major milestone in the technology development of the concept.’
The BWB concept is unique in that it gets rid of the conventional tube and wing shape of today’s airplanes, in favour of a triangular tailless aircraft that effectively merges the vehicle’s wing and body.
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