Blended Wing Aircraft

While aircraft design has advanced leaps and bounds in many areas since the Wright Brothers flew the first powered aircraft, the standard planes flown today would be easily recognizable as aircraft when compared to the plane flown in 1903. The standard wing and box fuselage design, similar to that of early aircraft, is an iconic symbol of flight in today’s world, but it is not the only option, nor possibly the best option.

As early as the 1920s, people were looking into alternatives to this model. One of the most promising alternatives is an alternate wing design, where the wings and body are one piece, known as a blended wing design. Aircraft incorporating the ideas of the blended wing concept were seen as early as 1929, with the Junkers G.38. This German aircraft carried up to 34 passengers,[1] which was a huge number when compared to other aircraft of the day, such as the Ford Trimotor which only carried 9 passengers.[2]

A blended wing body offers several potential advantages over traditional aircraft. The lift-to-drag ratio is the amount of lift created by the airplane divided by the drag it creates.[3] A blended wing body offers a significantly increased lift to drag ratio.[4] An aircraft with a higher lift to drag ratio means increased fuel efficiency, and potentially a greater range.[3] Research has also shown that an aircraft with a blended wing design could have a similar capacity to the largest passenger aircraft currently available,[5] and retain its benefits of being significantly more fuel efficient, and therefore much cheaper to fly. A blended wing body could potentially carry between 450 and 800 passengers. In comparison, the largest aircraft currently available, the Airbus A380, carries between 525 and 853 passengers.[6]

Until recently, very little serious research has been focused on blended wing design. However, airlines have produced a demand for more fuel efficient, larger aircraft. This has led to several groups around the world putting more effort into the research and development of blended wing aircraft, including Boeing and NASA. Boeing and NASA have partnered to gather data and research this type of wing design. Two notable models are the X-48B[7] and, more recently, the X-48C.[8] These subscale prototypes were constructed for Boeing by Cranston Aerospace, and are being used to collect data about various flight characteristics, including handling qualities and stall characteristics. In the future, this information could be used to design a new type of aircraft, one that early designers may not have recognized as an aircraft.

References

  1. Popular Mechanics, Plane with two-deck cabin carries 34, Popular Mechanics, 1931.
  2. Yellowstone Aviation Inc., The amazing story of America's oldest flying airliner, Jackson, Wyoming: Yellowstone Aviation Inc, 2004.
  3. NASA, Lift to Drag Ratio, pp. 72–73, 2010, Accessed 28 October 2013.
  4. R. Liebeck, Design of the blended wing body subsonic transport, J. Aircraft 41, pp. 10–25, 2004.
  5. L. A. Moreno, R. S. Palma, and L. P. Pascual, Aerodynamic study of a blended wing body; comparison with a convential transport airplane, 25th Int. Aero. Sci., 2006.
  6. Airbus, A380 - own the sky, 2013, Accessed 28 October 2013.
  7. NASA, X48B blending wing body, Accessed 28 October 2013.
  8. NASA, Transformed X-48C Flies Succesfully, 2012, Accessed 28 October 2013.

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