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Feature Story

X48

NASA photo

The X-48C is a scale model of a heavy-lift, subsonic aircraft that possibly could be developed for military applications. Boeing and NASA believe the BWB concept offers the potential over the long-term of significantly greater fuel efficiency and reduced noise.

 

A flight toward the future

The X-48C Blended Wing Body unmanned research aircraft took to the skies on its first-ever flight.

Boeing took another step forward in exploring revolutionary concepts that one day could offer greater breakthroughs in flight.

The remotely piloted X-48C aircraft took off at 7:56 a.m. Pacific Time on Aug. 7 from NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The vehicle climbed to an altitude of 5,500 feet before landing 9 minutes later.

The X-48C is a scale model of a heavy-lift, subsonic vehicle that forgoes the conventional tube-and-wing airplane design in favor of a triangular aircraft that effectively merges the vehicle's wing and body. Boeing and NASA believe the BWB concept offers the potential over the long-term of significantly greater fuel efficiency and reduced noise.

With a 21-foot wingspan and a weight of 500 pounds, the X-48C is a modified version of the X-48B aircraft, which flew 92 times at NASA Dryden between 2007 and 2010. The X-48C is configured with two 89-pound thrust turbojet engines, instead of three 50-pound thrust engines on the B-model; and wingtip winglets have been relocated inboard next to the engines on the C-model, effectively turning them into twin tails. The aft deck also was extended about 2 feet at the rear. The vehicle has an estimated top speed of about 140 miles per hour and a maximum altitude of 10,000 feet.

The X-48B's flight test program proved that a BWB aircraft can be controlled as effectively as a conventional tube-and-wing aircraft during takeoffs and landings, as well as in other low-speed segments of the flight regime. "With the X-48C, we will be evaluating the impact of noise shielding concepts on low-speed flight characteristics,” said Bob Liebeck, a Boeing Senior Technical Fellow and the company’s BWB program manager.

The X-48C is an 8.5 percent scale model of an aircraft with a 240-foot wingspan that possibly could be developed in the next 15 to 20 years for military applications such as aerial refueling and cargo missions. The X-48C project team consists of Boeing, NASA, Cranfield Aeropace, and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory.