Oct 2, 2007

Boeing's Future Bet?

Boeing has "bet the farm" a few times in the past during the development of a new aircraft. That is they've pushed the envelope hard enough into new technological and economic territory, that had the new aircraft not been a success, it could have taken the company down with it.

I've seen some artist renditions futuristic blended body Boeings of the future, but this is the first report I've seen of an actual test vehicle/prototype:

Boeing Flies Blended Wing Body Research Aircraft

The innovative Boeing Blended Wing Body (BWB) research aircraft -- designated the X-48B -- flew for the first time July 20, 2007 at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

In this picture from August 14, an X-48B prototype is flying over Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base in California, in its fifth trip aloft since its debut flight in mid-July. Following a sixth flight not long ago, the aircraft is now on hiatus till sometime in October as Boeing--and partners NASA and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory--perform maintenance, update software and flight control systems, and evaluate data from the first round of flights. Among the physical changes under way: engineers are taking off removable leading edges with extended slats and replacing them with slatless leading edges, NASA said.

In the design of Boeing's experimental X-48B aircraft, it's hard to know where the fuselage stops and the wings begin. Fittingly, the company is describing the craft as a "blended wing body," or BWB--and it's careful to point out the differences between this new shape and older, similar notions of the flying wing. That's partly because of the way the wings and fuselage come together, and partly because the BWB design allows for more volume inside, Boeing says.

If Boeing goes fully ahead with civilian transport production of this aircraft, this project would put them way ahead of Airbus in this type of fuel efficient design. Airbus has nothing on its drawing borad even close to this. Boeing would keep a commanding lead for the next 20 years if project gets green light.


Anonymous said...

won't it be a bit tough for passengers, sitting in a flying movie theater with few windows? and i wonder what the ride will be like for passengers sitting near the wingtips when it banks?

Aluwings said...

I wondered the same thing at first - then remembered how few passengers now have window seats on jumbo jets - and there's little to watch anyway during most of the flight.

I imagine that with careful cabin lighting plus the use of exterior cameras viewable from the seat-back video screens etc... there will be ways to satisfy people's desire to look outside.

Aviatrix said...

It looks like the 1960s SSTs, and I second the assertion that video cameras would do for exterior views. You could just add a few to the available channels on the entertainment system.

dan said...

I think that one of the nicest parts of flying is being able to look out the window and enjoy the fact that I'm speeding through the sky (even if there is very little to watch!). Especially when coming in to land, and being able to see entire cities and landmarks at a single glance.

This type of experience could not easily be replicated with camera's and monitors (which would likely have technical problems and not work from time to time as well). What if they are pointed in teh direction that I want to look?

And especially for someone like myself who only flys occasionally, it is one of those things that keeps on amazing me (the view). Perhaps it is something that you don't soak in as much when it becomes part of your everyday working routine...?

What do all the pilots think about their great view from the front office. Is it something that you end up thinking less about over time?

Aluwings said...

Dan, it's true that most pilots never tire of those awesome views (when we have time to actually look at them - the closer we are to the ground, generally the busier we are...)

I read somewhere about research into cabin lighting to simulate time-of-day effects as a way to help passengers deal with circadian cycles and jet lag, etc... I imagine that if the economics favor this kind of airliner design, there will be even more work done to make the interiour attractive to passengers. How about huge sidewall projection images of the world outside the airplane that make it seem like the plane has no walls at all! That would freak some people out for sure.

As it is now, the great views when coming into land are only visible to a few folks for a few minutes on each flight, especially on the jumbos. But imagine if you could set your personal video screen to show the view from the pilot's front window. Or out the side from the wing tips? Or towards the front or rear from a camera mounted on top? Or even straight down from a belly-mounted camera?

Anonymous said...

some airlines have such camera systems already. i flew on an air france A330 recently and on one of the video channels you could watch a camera that pointed straight down during cruise and forwards during takeoff and landing. it was really great, at least in the daytime when it wasn't cloudy.

dan said...

I'm actually surprised that more planes don't have cameras on the nose and tail so that we can watch that race down the runway... The A380 has that setup as well does it not?

Still though, I'd be pretty bummed to fly in planes that had windowless cabins altogether... There's nothing like staring out to the horizon and daydreaming.

moe said...

Yes it does:


To be honest I would LOVE to have that view on takeoff. I think I'd probably be staring at the screen more than out the window! And I'd also be willing to bet some of the pilots would steal glances from it as well.