NASA wants to bring back X-planes to test new aviation technologies
The American X-planes were part of the romance of the heyday of post-war aviation with test pilots like Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier in the X-1 and a rival corps of astronauts flew into space in the X-15. As part of a 10-year plan proposed by the Obama administration, NASA Aeronautics' New Aviation Horizons program wants to revive the X-planes for the 21st century as demonstrators for emerging, greener flight technologies.
Part of President Obama's federal budget request for the next fiscal year, New Aviation Horizons is aimed at creating new technologies that will make aircraft more environmentally friendly, more fuel efficient and lower airline operating costs. The key to this is a new tranche of "X-plane" experimental technology demonstrator airplanes, similar to the ones that made so many American aviation breakthroughs from the 1940s onward.
If funding is approved, the first flights of these X-planes could take off sometime around 2020. The aircraft would be manned and typically scaled to about half the size of production aircraft. According to NASA, the purpose of the planes will be to test such things as lightweight composites, quieter, more advanced engines, quieter landing gear and flap mechanisms, shape-changing wing flaps, and bug-resistant coatings. The agency says that these have the potential to save the air industry US$225 billion dollars over a 25-year period.
Beyond individual technologies, the X-planes will include novel designs, such as a truss-braced wing for subsonic flight, an aircraft propelled by a battery of small electric motors, and an aircraft featuring a blended-wing design with top-mounted engines that can fly at the same speed as a commercial transport. Other design features under study include a double-wide fuselage, very long and narrow wings, and engines installed inside the aircraft instead of mounted on pylons.
NASA says that the X-planes will also include a civilian supersonic aircraft. This business-sized jet would not only fly faster than the speed of sound, but would do so using bio-fuels and have a wing and fuselage design that would reduce sonic booms to an unnoticeable level on the ground.
In addition, the new NASA plan would include a new effort to improve air traffic flow both in the air and on the ground as a way to not only save fuel, but also to decrease the noise associated with takeoff and landings.
"We're at the right place, at the right time, with the right technologies," says Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. "The full potential of these technologies can't be realized in the tube-and-wing shape of today's aircraft. We need the X-planes to prove, in an undeniable way, how that tech can make aviation more Earth friendly, reduce delays and maintain safety for the flying public, and support an industry that's critical to our nation's economic vitality."
The federal budget request is for the fiscal year starting on October 1, 2016, with NASA's 10-year plan to kick off next year if the request is approved.
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They don't just have 1 group build a bunch of computer models, then test them all using a NASA supercomputer, then have engineers build the damn thing. no no no no no, they have to award a bunch of little contracts out to a dozen universities, which takes a lot of time, and pisses away millions of dollars. What's the end result...yep, nothing. They will learn very little, which will then be filed away in a giant digital filing cabinet.
When people say "NASA needs a bigger budget!"...I can't help but cringe a little.
@Derek Howe, Supersonic is good until you remember that Concorde is dead, but the 737 is very much alive. Supersonic planes will benefit only a small percentage of commuters, but more efficient planes will benefit all commuters.
Elon musk has commented about building a electric jet, that would be VTOL and go supersonic. That would sound absurd & crazy...except...he's Elon F'in Musk.
@Derek Howe: Costs will be high no matter what, simply because of the fuel requirements, and materials costs. See, going supersonic heats the craft up, which plays hob with the materials. Concorde f.e. got about 12cm longer when going supersonic because of the heat, which required special alloys to keep from breaking up because of this.