Cranfield University expertise is behind NASA’s futuristic X-48C hybrid wing-body plane – the remotely piloted aircraft which took to the skies for the first time at Edwards Air Force Base in California’s Mojave Desert this week.The aircraft was designed by The Boeing Co. and built by Cranfield Aerospace Limited – the wholly owned commercial arm of Cranfield University.
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The new X-48C model, formerly the X-48B Blended Wing Body aircraft, was modified to evaluate the low-speed stability and control of a low-noise version of a notional, future Hybrid Wing Body aircraft design.
The HWB design stems from concept studies being conducted by NASA’s Environmentally Responsible Aviation project of future potential aircraft designs 20 years from now.
“We are thrilled to get back in the air to start collecting data in this low-noise configuration,” said Heather Maliska, X-48C project manager at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center.
“Our dedicated team has worked hard to get the X-48C off the ground for its first flight and we are excited learning about the stability and control characteristics of this low-noise configuration of the blended wing body.”
Primary changes to the C model from the B model, which flew 92 flights at Dryden between 2007 and 2010, were geared to transforming it to an airframe noise-shielding configuration. External modifications included relocating the wingtip winglets inboard next to the engines, effectively turning them into twin tails. The aft deck of the aircraft was extended about 2 feet to the rear. Finally, the project team replaced the X-48B’s three 50-pound thrust jet engines with two 89-pound thrust engines.
Because handling qualities of the X-48C will be different from those of the X-48B, the project team developed flight control system software modifications, including flight control limiters to keep the airplane flying within a safe flight envelope. This will enable a stronger and safer prototype flight control system suitable for future full-scale commercial hybrid or blended wing aircraft.
During the planned second block of flight testing this autumn, NASA will test engine yaw control software incorporated in the X-48C’s flight computer. This research will use asymmetric engine thrust to create yaw, or nose left or right movements, for trim and for relatively slow manoeuvres.
• PHOTOGRAPH: The sub-scale NASA-Boeing X-48C blended wing body technology demonstrator awaits its first flight from Rogers Dry Lake on a hot August morning at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. (Photograph: NASA / Carla Thomas)