An experimental jet that resembles a flying wing successfully flew for the first time in a program that could lead to more fuel-efficient, quieter and higher-capacity aircraft, NASA said Thursday.
The remotely controlled, 500-pound, three-engine jet with a 21-foot wingspan took off July 20, climbed to an altitude of 7,500 feet and landed about a half-hour later, NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center said.
The X-48B Blended Wing Body aircraft was controlled by a pilot at a ground station. NASA and Boeing said data from the flight are already being compared with data from wind tunnel tests.
The aircraft and a duplicate were designed by Boeing Co.'s Phantom Works in cooperation with NASA and the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Built by Cranfield Aerospace Ltd. in Bedford, England, they are 8.5 percent-scale versions of a future full-size design.
The X-48B resembles a flying wing, but the wing blends into a wide, flat and tailless fuselage, NASA and Boeing said.
The design is intended to provide more lift with less drag compared with the cylindrical fuselage of a traditional aircraft, reducing fuel consumption while cruising.
The engines are located high on the back of the aircraft, which should mean it is quieter inside and less noise reaches the ground during flights.
The planes are initially flying at low speeds to gather information about the stability and flight-control characteristics of the design, particularly during takeoff and landing.
Another X-48B used for wind tunnel testing is available as a backup for flight tests.