NASA: “Hybrid Wing” Uses Half the Fuel of a Standard Airplane

NASA has been researching Blended Wing Body (BWB) aircraft, building a series of larger and larger remote controlled experimental planes. NASA has recently announced a carbon-composite based manufacturing process that they think will enable production of sufficiently strong structures for commercial use.

 Wikipedia on BWB: aircraft have a flattened and airfoil shaped body, which produces most of the lift, the wings contributing the balance. The body form is composed of distinct and separate wing structures, though the wings are smoothly blended into the body. By way of contrast, flying wing designs are defined as a tailless fixed-wing aircraft which has no definite fuselage, with most of the crew, payload and equipment being housed inside the main wing structure.

A blended wing body has lift-to-drag ratio 50% greater than a conventional airplane. Thus BWB incorporates design features from both a futuristic fuselage and flying wing design. (…) 

I’ve not yet found any drawings of the proposed composite construction – but Kevin Bullis at MIT Technology Review has this:

The second challenge is building a full-scale version of the aircraft with pressurized cabins that is structurally sound. One reason tubular airplanes have persisted is that it’s relatively easy to build a tube that can withstand the forces acting on it from the outside during flight while maintaining cabin pressure. The hybrid wing design involves a flatter, box-like fuselage that blends with the wings. The flatter structure, which includes some near-right angles, is much more difficult to build in a way that’s strong enough and light enough to be practical.

NASA’s manufacturing process starts with preformed carbon composite rods. The rods are covered with carbon fiber fabric and stitched into place. Fabric is then stitched over foam strips to create cross members. The fabric is impregnated with an epoxy to create a rigid composite structure.

Sections of a fuselage built with the technique were tested and shown to withstand up to the forces that would be applied to a finished aircraft. Tests also showed that when enough pressure was applied to cause the parts to fail, the stitching used to make the structure stopped cracks from spreading—a key to avoiding catastrophic failure in flight.

5 thoughts on “NASA: “Hybrid Wing” Uses Half the Fuel of a Standard Airplane

  1. Why should pressurization be a problem? Couldn’t the passengers just wear oxygen masks?

    • That’s why I suggested it.

      There could be two classes of airplanes, i.e., pressurized and non-pressurized. For the amount of money saved, surely many passengers would prefer to wear O2 masks and ride in the non-pressurized planes. Actually, that would merely be a continuation of developments in the airline industry anyway. They have been gradually reducing services for years now.

      If you could fly from NYC to London for $500 less in a non-pressurized airplane, wouldn’t you do it?

  2. >>If you could fly from NYC to London for $500 less in a non-pressurized airplane, wouldn’t you do it?

    Personally no, but I’m a wuss. I want to read my iPad etc. Not fun with a mask.

    Is there a safety issue with oxygen accumulation leaking from 500 masks?

    • Ventilation with plenty of outside air would eliminate the risk that could otherwise be caused by 500 masks. Anxiety could be controlled by adding a bit of N2O to the O2. Well, perhaps not, but I thought I’d mention the possibility.

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