The X-48B prepares for flight testing this month:
It would be a dream come true for the airline industry: A plane that uses up to 30 percent less gas to reach its destination, compared with today's jets.
That's the promise of the blended-wing, a radically new kind of aircraft set to take to the skies for the first time this month. Originally conceived by McDonnell Douglas and developed by NASA, the blended-wing merges fuselage and wings and eliminates the tail, reducing drag. That makes it vastly more fuel-efficient than regular "tube-and-wing" jets, according to Boeing (Charts) engineer Norm Princen.
His X-48B blended-wing prototype, now on the runway at Edwards Air Force Base, is only about a 10th the size of the 240-foot-wingspan craft he hopes to build. But the Pentagon is watching keenly. "Blended-wing technology can cost-effectively fill many roles required by the Air Force," says Capt. Scott Van-Hoogen of the Air Vehicles Directorate. As a tanker, for example, it could refuel two planes in midair at the same time.
Unfortunately, the article notes that you won't be able to fly in one for 15 years or more.