Blended Wing Body Aircraft

Currently undergoing research by NASA and its partners, the Blended Wing Body (BWB) aircraft shape features two wings much broader at base in comparison to traditional aircraft, joined to the fuselage almost entirely along its length to create a homogenised aircraft body/wing arrangement. The resulting craft effectively comprises one large single wing, which is much flatter, broader and more aerodynamic shape in comparison with traditional airframes.

Blended Wing Body Aircraft. Image copyright © NASA /

Although not a new concept in terms of aircraft shape with the B-2 bomber and B-49 military aircrafts having previously been produced, the design is currently being researched in terms of its viability for commercial passenger aircraft. This will be a new application for BWB aircraft, which has so far been served only by traditional tubular fuselage style aircraft.

The BWB shape offers potential advantages in terms of payload and fuel economy. In addition to the body, the interior space of the wings can be used for the transportation of cargo and passengers (payload). This has the potential to reduce the frequency of flights required, potentially leading to an overall reduction in carbon emissions from air travel.

As further benefits in terms of fuel economy, the homogenised body/wing arrangement of the BWB generates greater lift and minimises drag in comparison to conventional airframes, and uses composite materials that are stronger and lighter than the metals used in typical aircraft construction. It is estimated that BWB would consume 20% less fuel than conventional tubular body aircraft flying at similar speeds over comparative distances. As an added benefit the aerodynamic design generates less noise than conventional body style aircraft.

On a practical level, the BWB has several control surfaces on the trailing edge, which substitute those of a conventional tail assembly, and the wingspan is similar enough in size to existing large passenger aircraft for use in existing terminals. The design will also allow for futuristic features such as the ability for passengers to be able to board from the front and rear of the aircraft, and real time videos will be used to display exterior views of the journey in place of windows.

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