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Frontiers December 2012/January 2013 Issue

“One of the strengths of the program is the trust they have in people to do their job.” – Jonathan Vass, X-48C test conductor, Boeing Research & Technology in the industry.” Not long afterward, NASA offered a “A lot of very smart people have improved The idea of Blended Wing Body air- $90,000 study contract to compare the on the design over the years. It’s been a planes is an offshoot of a popular concept Blended Wing Body concept to a tube- diverse team of people who have openly called the flying wing. Efforts to develop and-wing concept. “I gladly accepted exchanged ideas and challenged one flying wing airplanes—or “tailless” air- the challenge,” Liebeck said. another. We’ve always had open, direct planes—began in the 1920s and continued Liebeck and two company engineering communication, and that makes it fun.” into World War II and beyond. colleagues—Blaine Rawdon and Mark At the end of the contract period they While flying wings and Blended Wing Page—got to work. Liebeck led the presented their results to NASA, noting Body airplanes are similar in appearance, effort, with expertise in the areas of they had found a strong potential for fuel they have some important differences. aerodynamics and wing design. Rawdon, savings. They were awarded a second “Flying wings, whether they’re swept who is still with the program, specialized $90,000 contract to refine the concept. In or unswept, look a lot like a big plank,” in configuration and preparing conceptual 1994, NASA awarded McDonnell Douglas Liebeck said. But Blended Wing Body drawings. Page, who has since left the a $3 million contract to study the technical airplanes, he added, have a center similar company, had a strong background and commercial feasibility of the concept. to the fuselage of a traditional airplane. in flight mechanics, and stability Liebeck and his team partnered “When we started researching this and control. with NASA Langley Research Center, over 20 years ago, we made some Rawdon, now a Technical Fellow in NASA Lewis Research Center (now the comparisons to traditional tube-and-wing Boeing Research & Technology’s Flight John H. Glenn Research Center), Stanford airplanes that were in service at that time,” Sciences Technology group, said Liebeck University, the University of Southern Liebeck said. “We saw a potential for a was the driving force on the team. Their California, the University of Florida and significant reduction in fuel burn. So we first job was to determine the basics of Clark-Atlanta University. decided that it was worth chasing.” a Blended Wing Body airplane design. One of the greatest challenges in Liebeck and his team are still chasing “My job included real-time drafting designing a commercial Blended Wing that dream—and have high hopes for on the computer, trying to sort out how Body airplane is cabin pressurization, its future. all the pieces could fit together and satisfy Liebeck said. The circular fuselage of a Their journey began in 1989, when the requirements,” Rawdon said. “From NASA held an “aerodynamic renaissance” time to time, Bob and Mark would stand PHOTOS: (Opposite page) Bob Liebeck, conference of aerospace professionals over my shoulder and we’d work various left, chief scientist of the Blended Wing at its Langley Research Center in Hampton, problems. It was all about figuring out Body program, and Dave Weston of Phan- Va. Its purpose was to explore whether what this thing would look like.” tom Works, the program’s safety officer. there were effective alternatives to traditional At that time, the team didn’t realize (Above, from left) An X-48C preflight briefing takes place in a hangar at NASA’s tube-and-wing commercial airplanes. the development program—which has Dryden Flight Research Center; Ian Brooks, Liebeck, then an employee of received limited staffing and funding over an instrumentation technician with Cranfield McDonnell Douglas, presented a paper the years—would still be going strong in Aerospace, which built the X-48 aircraft, at the conference that was on an 2012. But Rawdon said the long evolution works next to one of the engine nacelles; embryonic Blended Wing Body com- of the program has had its benefits. two Boeing Research & Technology employees, John Sheen, left, flight controls mercial airplane. He didn’t realize when “Our present concept of a Blended engineer, and Ted Rothaupt, X-48C test he presented it that it would change Wing Body airplane didn’t pop up as a director, download data from the X-48C the course of his career. crystal-clear vision early on,” Rawdon said. following a test flight. BOB FERGUSON/BOEING BOEING FRONTIERS / DECEMBER 2012–JANUARY 2013 25


Frontiers December 2012/January 2013 Issue
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