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X-48B Blended Wing Body — future of flight?

24 September 2012

X-48B Blended Wing Body — future of flight?

Boeing X-48B  in flight  at the  Dryden Flight Research Center — NASA photo by Tony Landis

Jack Northrop sought to eliminate significant drag by eliminating the fuselage with the flying wing design — now seen in the Rockwell B-1 Lancer. Before him, Vincent Burnelli’s lifting body designs sought to make aircraft safer by enlarging the fuselage into a flying body with wings and tail surfaces as appendages. Kelly Johnson’s A-12, YF-12A and SR-71 aircraft may be considered pseudo-lifting bodies with their blended combinations of wing and fuselage chines. Let us not forget the lifting body design of the Martin Marietta X-24. Today, a fully fused fuselage and wing design in a scaled model designated as the X-48B Blended Wing Body is currently in flight testing at the Dryden Flight Research Center — the result of NASA, the Air Force Research Laboratory, Boeing and Cranfield Aerospace efforts.

The X-48B  showing the  lines of a  large and long ranged but efficient design — NASA photo by Tony Landis

The remotely controlled 8.5% scaled model of long range large load transport aircraft is powered by three small turbojet engines which produce a combined 160 pounds/712N of thrust. Though having an all up weight of 523 pounds/238kg it can fly as high as 10,000 feet/3030m and as fast as 139 mph/222kph while staying aloft for as long as 40 minutes.

The interior volume of the  blended wing body is large for its size  when compared to  conventional cargo/transport aircraft — NASA photo by Tony Landis

Facts sheets provided by the Dryden Flight Research Center can be found here as well as here.

Burnelli’s latest design, the CBY-3 is the subject of a Ross Sharp post from the Shortfinals’s Blog,  Burnelli CBY-3, a unique aircraft but conspiracy theories abound!

Looking at these images of the X-48B I cannot help but think that Juan Trippe would have aircraft makers produce this airplane for his airline, Pan Am. First the flying clippers, Boeing’s 707 and 747 — then the X-48B winging across the world’s oceans and continents.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. 24 September 2012 04:57

    Reblogged this on Gigable – Tech Blog.

  2. 24 September 2012 21:45

    Good Post as always

  3. 24 September 2012 21:54

    Once again you surpass expectation Joe serve your readers a fine gormet dish of delightful tasty modsels of aviation tidbits we can sink our teeth into and be tempted to dream of the future and what it may hold for the new aviation cadets. This is yet another step toward inner-space travel perhaps, with comfort and speed we cannot fathom what is to come?
    Thanks for the glimps into what may be tomorrows promises.
    As always you never fail to deliver an exciting story. I am always amazed at your consistency, Joseph you are one of the best bloggers on the Intrenet!
    Thanks so much for what you do.

  4. David "Mac" McLay permalink
    25 September 2012 01:34

    Re: Burnelli/Northrop/Boeing design elements/connections
    Another fascinating and well-researched post, Joe! The link to Ross Sharp’s Shortfinals blog was much appreciated: an illuminating read, ineed.

    Re: Airline pioneer Juan Trippe
    Had he lived into this new and exciting aviation/aerospace era of advancement and exploration, my old boss at Pan Am would indeed have been the “launch customer” for the X-48B “Clipper.” Thanks, Joe, for recognising Trippe’s place in the pantheon of aviation pioneers. He was a true visionary who understood the potential of air and space travel.

    • travelforaircraft permalink
      1 October 2012 17:28

      Ross does excellent work does he not?

      When I saw the bows on view of the scaled aircraft I saw its potential as an airliner — instantly I could see in my mind’s eye Juan Trippe taking his plan to manufacturers and, once again, catapulting the airliner industry into another era. I could see all that thanks to the books you sent my way — many thanks, again, for that favor 🙂

  5. 26 September 2012 08:21

    Indeed I agree.
    I am currently reading about the life of Juan Trippe and I would recommend it to all. “The Chosen Instrument” is about the Trippe and the Pan Am story.
    Yes, I agree with Captain MaClay who flew for many years for Pan Am and perhaps knew Juan Trippe first hand. Indeed Trippe would have an eye for such an aircraft of the future.
    JR Hafer, aviation writer

    • travelforaircraft permalink
      1 October 2012 17:22

      Like you, I saw the scaled model and thought of J. Trippe in the next instant.

  6. 16 November 2012 20:32

    Vincent Burnelli considered this design in the early 50’s but rejected it in favor of the simple and less expensive lifting fuselage he had designed since the early 20’s. Sure, you can make the greatest design with the least drag but at what cost? If the numbers don’t add up and there’s no profit to be made then what’s the point? See and check out his 1951 BWB. Boeing’s design is an almost exact copy. Burnelli’s design is even better with imbedded engines for less drag and less noise.

    • travelforaircraft permalink
      17 November 2012 10:34

      Thanks for your observations and for pointing us to the 1951 BWB. Burnelli is unheralded and unfairly so, in my opinion. I only came to know of him as well as your fine website through Ross Sharp’s post in his Shortfinals’s blog. I’ve studied Burnelli’s designs as they are quite interesting. Thanks again 🙂

  7. 9 February 2013 23:55

    For anyone interested, the Burnelli site is now

    The NASA/Boeing X-48 will never be built. In Boeing’s own words, it is not in their 20 year plan. It is only being used for advertising that Boeing is looking to the future of flight and because NASA (the tax payer) is footing the bill for testing.

    Here is the future of flight for the next 100 years. Go to and compare its history and proven advatages over the tube and wing design and even the BWB. The cost alone for the BWB’s complexity and instability patches will not give passengers the cost break they are hoping for.

    See what a senior aeronautical engineer at NASA has to say about Vincent Burnelli’s lifting fuselage design… Striking is the word he uses for comparison of Burnelli’s early 60’s supersonic airliner design to NASA’s X-43B hypersonic design.

    Striking indeed. I’m workin’ on it.

    • travelforaircraft permalink
      15 February 2013 12:46

      Thanks! And thanks for your work, as well 🙂 I’ll update the link, too. Good luck to you 🙂

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