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NASA and Boeing Team Up to Figure Out the Future of Flight

April 13, 2010 at 8:31 AM | by | ()

It’s no secret that we’ve been closely following the progress of Boeing’s latest airplane, but even if the 787 is more fuel efficient than the competition it hardly will become an in-flight Prius. That’s why Boeing has been teaming up with NASA to figure out how airplanes can be more efficient, and they recently tested out one of their latest flying machines.

The test plane is part of the X-48B program, and this really fancy remote control airplane uses a blended wing design to increase fuel efficiency. The current test plane is kind of small—it’s only an 8.5 percent model with about a 20-foot wingspan—so we’ve still got years and years before we’re complaining about the lack of in-flight WiFi on a plane like this.

Potential passengers would sit in the middle of the airplane, and all of the engines would be placed toward the rear of the plane. No engines dangling from the wings here, as it tries to emulate a flying wing—kind of like a bird or a B-2 bomber. There’s no planned stealth technology here, but a plane like this would likely be much quieter so you might not hear it coming.

Right now the biggest problem—besides the fact that only a mouse could fit inside—is that the design is difficult to control at low speeds. When landing the test model things become pretty tricky, but thankfully the in-flight computer has done a good job of handling things. A new computer will be installed later this year, and hopefully we’ll get one step closer to flying in giant wing. For now we’ll stick to following some of the more traditional airplane designs, but will keep an eye on the future.

Related Stories:
· NASA’s Mini X-Plane Completes Initial Flight Testing [Wired]
· The Boeing 787 Dreamliner Bends But Doesn't Break [Jaunted]
· Airplane News coverage [Jaunted]

[Photo: Wired via NASA/Boeing]

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