The USAF1. announced a major project for developing a Piloted Blended Wing Body (BWB) Demonstrator on August 16, 2023. This proposed project will build an airliner-scale piloted blended-wing-body demonstrator in partnership with Northrup Grumman and JetZero.
Figure 1: Structure of the Blended Wing Body Aircraft
The BWB design differs from the traditional tube-and-wing aircraft in that the BWB blends the aircraft body into its high-aspect-ratio wing, decreasing aerodynamic drag by at least 30% and providing additional lift. This increased efficiency will enable BWB aircraft with extended range, more loiter time, and increased payload delivery efficiencies, capabilities that are vital to mitigating logistics risks, particularly in the military. Commercial aspects of this program relate to a new passenger airliner with considerably improved fuel efficiency.
The BWB concept has been around for several decades. However, this project can proceed now because recent technology advancements in structural design, materials technology, manufacturing, and other areas have made large-scale production (i.e., a full-scale airplane) achievable.
Figure 2: Concept Design for the Blended Wing Body Demonstrator, Proposed Commercial Project
The BWB project is a major success for commercial aerospace startup JetZero. The US Air Force will spend $235 million to support building this airliner-scale blended-wing-body demonstrator, which will be done in partnership with Northrop Grumman. This project award from the US Department of Defence’s Defence Innovation Unit (DiU) will provide the funds over four years and is intended to culminate in the first flight of the full-scale demonstrator in the first quarter of 2027.
The BWB aircraft will be powered by a pair of high-thrust PW1000 series geared turbofan engines assembled near Mojave, CA. It is understood by both parties that additional capital beyond the DiU award may be required to complete the demonstrator.
While the demonstrator’s precise dimensions have not been specified, this novel blended wing configuration will be equivalent to a 200 to 250-seat commercial airliner.
Figure 3: USAF Tanker Concept for BWB Aircraft
The USAF has sought to participate in this ostensibly commercial airplane project because they are interested in procuring a next-generation blended-wing tanker. Such a tanker (for air-to-air fuel supply) is often derived from a commercial aircraft platform. Currently, the USAF has a tanker supply and requirement of almost 200 aircraft tankers. Commercial aircraft produced using these designs for passenger aviation needs will be many multiples of that USAF supply number.
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