On August 7, NASA flew a remote-controlled scale model of its “hybrid wing-body” airplane, the X-48C. The nomenclature for its design is derived from its blend of flying wing aircraft and conventional planes. It highly resembles some of the historic Burnelli designs. This new design is said to have not only the benefit of long-term fuel efficiency but also fuel capacity. Due to the aircraft’s engines being moved further to the fore of the aircraft, there are also noise-reduction benefits over the previous B-model.
The aircraft flown was an 8.5 percent scale model with a wing span of only 20 feet. The aircraft was flown remotely. Though it has a flight time of 35 minutes and a ceiling of 10,000 feet, the aircraft only flew for nine minutes and reached an altitude of 5500 feet. The final, full-size model is said to have a range of 11,000 nautical miles.
The X-48C is a joint project between NASA, Boeing, Cranfield Aerospace and the United States Air Force. Applications for the final model range from cargo, to airliner, to bomber. It is suggested the first customer of the design will be the USAF. The aircraft is still a long way from finalization, with an estimated 10 years before the final model is ready.
This successful flight marks another in a series of successful flights by NASA of its “X-Planes.” In fact, the X-Planes were made famous back in 1948 with the successful flight of the X-1 jet by pilot Chuck Yeager, being the first to break the sound barrier. Now, NASA shall herald a new breed of airplane that can remain in flight longer, thus reducing the need for heavy fuel loads or periodic aerial re-fuelings.