The United States Air Force is planning to spend $235 million to fund a startup manufacturer’s development of a jet that has a blended-wing body, which officials have said might improve the range and efficiency of cargo aircraft and military tankers, and perhaps be used to transport airline passengers in the future.
A report reveals that a full-scale demonstration jet is expected to be ready to fly by 2027, according to JetZero and the US Air Force, which confirmed the award on Wednesday.
Large aircraft often take the shape of tubes to which wings and a tail portion are added. Blended-wing aircraft have a fused fuselage and wing structure. The end product is an aerodynamically superior plane to a standard airplane of identical size that looks sleek and futuristic.
According to the Air Force, the new aircraft would reduce fuel consumption by 30 percent compared to the present fleet while transporting cargo. JetZero predicts a 50 percent decrease in use.
The people at JetZero claim that conventional aircraft have exhausted their options for making fuel savings and that a new design is required to cut fuel consumption and pollutants in the face of rising fuel costs.
NASA, the Defense Innovation Unit at the Pentagon, and the Air Force are all involved. Northrop Grumman, a major military contractor, has joined forces with JetZero.
The concept of a combined body and wing is not novel. Samples of Boeing’s X-48 were constructed and tested at a smaller size. Lockheed Martin tested a Composite Wing Body concept in wind tunnels. The Air Force claims that materials and production technology developments have made it feasible to create larger-scale demonstrations.
Officials said Wednesday at a briefing that the JetZero demonstration might help the Air Force decide whether it should eventually use blended-wing bodies for future refueling tankers.
The design’s potential to increase seating capacity or cargo capacity while decreasing fuel costs was cited as a potential advantage for both passenger and freight carriers.