Aug. 8, 2012 at 1:38 PM ET
The newest generation of NASA’s blended-wing-body aircraft took to the skies for the first time Tuesday, showcasing what could be the shape of fuel-efficient and less-noisy aviation within a few decades.
The X-48C is a remotely piloted scale model of the futuristic plane. Its triangular shape looks more like a slice of flying pizza than the traditional tube-and-wing designs that currently populate the skies.
NASA and Boeing are collaborating on the futuristic project, aiming to build a plane for military and civilian use that is vastly more fuel efficient and quieter than those in the skies now.
The latest version, much like the earlier versions in the X-48 series, is a scaled-down model with a 21-foot wing span and weighs 500 pounds. Full size, the wings would stretch 240 feet tip-to-tip.
The first flight was a nine-minute jaunt at Edwards Air Force Base in California, topping out at an altitude of 5,500 feet. The X-48C has a projected top speed of 140 miles per hour and maximum altitude of 10,000 feet. (Video, click here.)
The X-48C is a modified version of the X-48B which flew 92 times between 2007 and 2010. The biggest changes are relocation of the wingtip winglets inboard next to the engines, effectively turning them into twin tails, and a two-foot extension of the aft deck.
In addition, the plane now has two 89-pound thrust turbojet engines instead of three 50-pound thrust engines.
The modifications will allow the partners to evaluate low-speed stability and control as well as noise-shielding concepts.
“We are thrilled to get back in the air to start collecting data in this low-noise configuration,” Heather Maliska, NASA Dryden’s project manager, said in a news release.