NASA to develop revolutionary concept X-planes

Researchers predict the tech could save the airline industry $255 billion accrued during the first 25 years after being put into service.

0 March 1, 2016

NASA x-plane

Building a series of X-planes fueled by green energy, use half the fuel and are only half as loud, as well as the world’s first “quiet” supersonic X-plane, is part of the budget proposal.
Credits: NASA / Lillian Gipson

NASA is dreaming big with plans to develop cleaner, quieter and faster aircraft. The space agency’s aeronautics division has an ambitious 10 year plan to reduce fuel consumption, emissions and noise through design innovations. The recent release of the U.S. federal budget puts NASA’s plan right on track to begin building “X-planes” starting in 2017.

NASA Aeronautics is confidently entering into X-plane territory after some extraordinary results coming out of six years of demonstrations. One of the pieces of NASA’s plan is New Aviation Horizons, will allow the space agency to design, build and fly demonstrations vehicles.

“It’s a shout-out to NASA’s century-old heritage in using experimental aircraft to test advanced technologies and revolutionary designs, and to reduce the time it takes for the tech to be adopted by industry and moved into the marketplace,” the agency said in a press release.

NASA Boeing x-plane

The hybrid wing body aircraft concept has turbofan engines on top of the back end, flanked by two vertical tails to shield people on the ground from engine noise. Credits: NASA / Boeing

NASA is working to develop concept aircraft that include lightweighting techniques with composite materials, advanced fan design to improve propulsion and reduce noise in the engine, wing flap and landing gear noise reduction, shape-changing wing flaps and specialty coatings preventing bug residue buildup.

Researchers predict the tech could save the airline industry $255 billion accrued during the first 25 years after being put into service.

“We’re at the right place, at the right time, with the right technologies,” said Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. “The full potential of these technologies can’t be realized in the tube-and-wing shape of today’s aircraft,” he explained.

One of the first X-planes is expected to be a hybrid wing body shape, where the wing blends into the body, and maintains speeds of commercial transport aircraft. NASA and partners have studied the performance and benefits of the hybrid wing body configuration for the past decade. This hybrid design places the engines on top of the fuselage, which presented unique challenges because of the shape and stresses during flight.

NASA x-plane

This X-plane flaps can be changed to different angles during flight, reducing drag and noise. Credits: NASA

This is just one of the many prototypes that NASA will be developing. Other New Aviation Horizon X-planes will introduce very long but narrow wings, forms of electric propulsion, a double-wide fuselage, or engines embedded into the vehicle.

“Another X-plane will be a business-jet-sized supersonic vehicle that burns low carbon bio-fuels and generates such quiet sonic booms that people on the ground will barely hear them,” the space agency explains.

For the most part, the new X-planes will be about half-scale of a production aircraft, likely to be piloted and expected to take to the skies by 2020.

“This is an exciting time for the entire NASA Aeronautics team and for those who benefit from aviation, which, frankly, is everyone,” Shin said. “With this 10-year plan to accelerate the transformation of aviation, the United States can maintain its status as the world’s leader in aviation for many years to come.”

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