Blended Wing ... Boondoggle or Progress?
Air travelers of the future may step onto a double-deck jetliner that resembles a flying wing, a radical departure that researchers think may carry up to 800 passengers to the far reaches of the globe both economically and efficiently. NASA, U.S. industry, and academia have teamed together to investigate the technologies that may make this possible. The effort is part of NASA's commitment to developing high-payoff technologies for a new generation of environmentally compatible, economical, safe, and highly productive aircraft. A broad range of new aircraft concepts are being studied as part of the Advanced Concepts for Aeronautics Program initiated by NASA Headquarters. – NASA Facts
Dominant Social Theme: Again, the miracle that is NASA teams up with government sponsored universities and the corporate-government complex to produce an awe-inspiring and possibly unnecessary technological advance.
Free-Market Analysis: The above was written way back in 1997, but the Blended Wing airplane is back in the news these days in a spate of articles that surely comprise a kind of subdominant social theme: NASA does it again – government sponsored technology wins the day!
We read various posts stating patents have just been awarded for innovative concepts and that parts of a Blended Wing design are slated to go into production later this year – mostly having to do with advanced engine design.
The Blended Wing concept is itself perhaps a decade away from taking flight but this is not preventing NASA from trumpeting the design and its breakthroughs. No doubt NASA honchos are quite aware of the state of US fedgov's budget and want to get out as much good news about NASA's competence and progress as possible.
We're all for technological progress, but these grand alliances between NASA, universities and (chiefly) Boeing make us uneasy. The Blended Wing jet airplane may indeed be the future of aerospace but we would feel better if it were being developed by individual entrepreneurs rather than what is basically the US military-industrial complex.
Sure, the Blended Wing, if it gets off the ground, will be able to carry more passengers with less fuel and lower noise. But how much money is being poured into its development? This may be a good example of a technology that the market itself would not create – or not at its current level – because the expense would prove prohibitive and the payoff scanty.
Here's more breathless text from NASA:
This unique government, industry and university collaboration will allow innovative research to be accomplished in a timely and cost effective manner. The partners bring their respective research, design, manufacturing and analytical expertise to the challenge.
With many applications for BWB technology envisioned -- from commercial transports, to cargo aircraft, to very-long-range military airlifters -- the technology required for the BWB may be the key to realizing continued increases in aircraft size and efficiency.
Advances made in the pursuit of the Blended- Wing-Body will provide new technologies for future aircraft, helping the U.S. aircraft industry to successfully compete in the 21st century.
We do note the Blended Wing has a top speed of about 560 miles per hour, which doesn't really make it any faster than current planes, from a consumer perspective. If one takes the point of view that airplane travel was all about getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible, then the Blended Wing is not much of a breakthrough.
What's being touted when it comes to the Blended Wing is its increased carrying capacity and lower fuel costs. Downsides include ride comfort, as those at the outer edges of a design like this may have a rougher ride than those in the center, service, given how many passengers will be jammed into a plane like this, and speed, which seems no higher and perhaps lower than current airplane travel.
What we are being introduced to is basically a bus-for-the-skies. The Blended Wing's fuel efficiency and carrying capacity are what is being heralded. We would get more excited over a flying machine that went 2,000 miles an hour than one that saves a bit of fuel while cramming in 1,000 people.
Conclusion: In the modern era, the creation of such concepts are hailed as breakthroughs. In fact, we live in a world that is far more interested in control than progress.
(Video from Boeing's YouTube user channel.)
Posted by dave jr on 02/19/13 08:53 AM
More lift with less fuel is efficiency which is good for markets, conducive of lower fares for personal transportation and cargo.
The issue here is socializing the cost of testing and developement of Boeings design, for private commercial interests.
The issue is the futher nationalizing of industry.
Posted by DaveM on 02/18/13 09:38 PM
The blended wing airplane is not new at all. An aircraft designer, by the name of Burnelli, was designing and building them back in the 1930's. The problem with jetliners using the design is the fact they end up being so large airport terminals would have a hard time parking them.
Reply from The Daily Bell
NASA is currently portraying it as a breakthrough ...
Posted by dimitri on 02/18/13 08:23 PM
All the usual suspects: the "unique government, industry and university collaboration".
Posted by Abu Aardvark on 02/18/13 06:10 PM
DB: "No doubt NASA honchos are quite aware of the state of US fedgov's budget and want to get out as much good news about NASA's competence and progress as possible."
NASA honchos, if you read this - please take note:
"According to Steve Anderson, a retired brigadier general who served as Gen. Petraeus' chief logistician in Iraq, the Department of Defense spends $20 billion air conditioning tents and temporary structures for the military. That's more than NASA's entire $19 billion annual budget."
Click to view link
Posted by marty on 02/18/13 03:46 PM
This plane is just a variation on a lifting body, which has been around since at least the fifties. The Northrup-Grumman YB-49, or flying wing, was a lifting body, prototype bomber. It's maiden flight was in 1947.
Like all lifting bodies, it had less drag, than a conventional plane, and was less stable than a conventional plane. The space shuttle, was a lifting body. The B-2 is a lifting body, and the F-117 is too.
The plane in question is a little more like a conventional plane, as it has sort of a fuselage, and it is adapted to low speeds. If there is something revolutionary, I can't see it.
This has been Nasa's problem all along. Nasa has never tried anything truly revolutionary, with the exception of the X-prize program, where technically described goals are set, and persons, or organizations that meet them are monetarily rewarded.
All it's launches have been made with adapted ballistic missile technology. The only thing revolutionary about the shuttle, was that it was partly reusable, after extensive refurbishment. No revolutionary technology to reach low earth orbit, or to transfer freight there, has ever been tested, by nasa.
Nasa proves the dictum that, all bureaucracies end up being run for the benefit of the employees of same. Anything truly revolutionary, would have a significant risk of failure, that could make management look bad. But then Apollo 1, and two shuttles failed, killing their crews anyway.
If early aviation had been run this way, we'd still only have planes similar to the Wright brother's flier. The space probes financed by nasa are fine machines, but unnecessarily costly, since there is no commonality of parts.
In effect, the wheel is reinvented, for every probe.
Posted by SoCal fellow on 02/18/13 01:18 PM
I will pay attention to NASA once they FINALLY and REALLY get us to the moon. Actually, I hope that their budget gets zeroed before then.
Posted by amanfromMars on 02/18/13 11:11 AM
"In fact, we live in a world that is far more interested in control than progress."
Quite so, DB, for power without control results in chaos and anarchy. But control requires the passing of instructions and that requires the control of communications and data, which is problematical whenever a power requiring control is corrupted and its systems administration has known vulnerabilities in its modi operandi/vivendi which can be effortlessly exploited to crash systems and systems support.
Then is one possible solution a danegeld investment with ... well, a poacher turned gamekeeper is both an apt and APT* application for the smarter being exercising intelligence when realising there is no viable defense against what is fundamentally an abiding systemic flaw with no painless solution if maintenance of the status quo hierarchy is desired. Better the devil you know and pay, and all that jazz, is a price well worth paying in such cases as have sympathetic players in control rather than radicalised hotheads hell bent of mad revenge and regime change, for goodness knows where such would lead and what other opportunities there be to explore and develop in these changed times, especially if one is without the necessary smarts in the changed fields of remote virtual control for absolute sovereign powers, which is what effective cyber command and control delivers, and they are the hottest of hot fields of raging international concern and even psychotic worry these days, because of the power which can be unleashed by those way out ahead in developing its ... ... well, let us just call them fabless capabilities, rather than frightening the natives with darker talk of virtual weaponry, although it is as well for one to know there is a dual, and even multi-use element in the very best of the capabilities.
*... Advanced Persistent Threat