A transformed X-48C experimental craft has successful first flight
08 August 2012
The remotely piloted, UK built X-48C experimental aircraft successfully flew for the first time on Tuesday (August 7) at Edwards Air Force Base in California's Mojave Desert.
The aircraft, designed by Boeing and built by the UK's Cranfield Aerospace, is flying again in partnership with NASA. The new X-48C model, which was formerly the X-48B Blended Wing Body aircraft, was modified to evaluate the low-speed stability and control of a low-noise version of a notional, future Hybrid Wing Body (HWB) aircraft design. The HWB design stems from concept studies being conducted by NASA's Environmentally Responsible Aviation project of future potential aircraft designs 20 years from now.
"We are thrilled to get back in the air to start collecting data in this low-noise configuration," said Heather Maliska, X-48C project manager at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center. "Our dedicated team has worked hard to get the X-48C off the ground for its first flight and we are excited learning about the stability and control characteristics of this low-noise configuration of the blended wing body."
Primary changes to the C model from the B model, which flew 92 flights at Dryden between 2007 and 2010, were geared to transforming it to an airframe noise-shielding configuration. External modifications included relocating the wingtip winglets inboard next to the engines, effectively turning them into twin tails. The aft deck of the aircraft was extended about 2 feet to the rear. Finally, the project team replaced the X-48B's three 50-pound thrust jet engines with two 89-pound thrust engines.
Because handling qualities of the X-48C will be different from those of the X-48B, the project team developed flight control system software modifications, including flight control limiters to keep the aircraft flying within a safe flight envelope. This will enable a stronger and safer prototype flight control system suitable for future full-scale commercial hybrid or blended wing aircraft.
Future flight experiments with the X-48C will help researchers further develop methods to validate the design's aerodynamics and control laws, including a goal of reducing aerodynamic drag through engine yaw control tests.