There are two different types of remote control aircraft.
There are those made by hobby fliers just for the fun
of it. And then there are multi-million dollar remotely
piloted aircraft developed by huge aerospace companies.
The Boeing X-48B, quite obviously, falls into the latter
The X-48B has a 6.4 meter (21 foot) wingspan, and weighs
in at 230 kgs (500 lbs). Power comes from three turbojet
engines mounted at the rear of the aircraft. It can fly
at up to 136 mph (220 km/h), and reach an altitude of
3,000 meters (10,000 feet). Like I said, this isn't your
everyday RC plane.
The X-48B wasn't just created as some sort of elaborate
toy for Boeing engineers to mess around with during coffee
breaks either - however cool that would be. Instead the
aircraft is being used to experiment with the idea of
developing a full-size blended-wing transport aircraft
in the future.
Blended-wing aircraft are nothing new, in fact the Germans
were designing blended-wing aircraft towards the end of
the Second World War. There have been recent notable blended-wing
aircraft too, including the Northrop Grumman B2 bomber.
However the Boeing X-48B's full-size successor would be
the first blended-wing aircraft designed primarily as
a military transport and passenger aircraft.
Blended wing aircraft like the X-48B have a number of
advantages over conventional tube-and-wing passenger aircraft.
They are quieter, more fuel efficient, and because the
passengers aren't just confined to a thin tube, they also
offer far more interior space to the occupants.
Recent advances in composite materials have made it much
easier and cheaper to produce blended wing aircraft than
it was previously. Aircraft built from composite materials
- like the full-size version of the X-48B would be - are
lighter and stronger than their metal-made counterparts.
The Boeing X-48B made its first flight in July of 2007,
and since then it has made many more. Every test flight
has proved a success and the program is moving along nicely.
In fact things are going so well that after 80 test flights
the team are working on a successor to the aircraft, called
the X-48C. This aircraft should be up in the air by 2011.
If the project continues without any hiccups then by 2022
the US Air Force should have themselves a truly unique
transport aircraft. A few years after that, you might
get to go in one next time you go on vacation.