DALLAS — Chinese-based Northwestern Polytechnical University (NPU) has successfully flown a subscale Blended Wing Body (BWB) aircraft model.
The experimental model’s design concept can accommodate 300 to 330 passengers. The university worked alongside the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, Ltd. COMAC, on the model.
The BWB model has a scale of approximately 1:10. NPU flew the subscale model autonomously at the UAV flight-test center in Jingbian, Shaanxi Province, on January 30. After working for over three decades, the team was able to get a breakthrough and start development and design in 2017.
COMAC is working on making the aircraft concept a reality. The company has previously flown BWB scale models of regional aircraft with a blended wing, a truss-braced wing single-aisle aircraft, and an electric aircraft powered by fuel cells.
The Search for a Feasible BWB
The NPU scale model fuselage is somewhat similar to that of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)-Cambridge University joint team project of 2006. The NPU scale model has two engines mounted on top of the fuselage, recalling those from Boeing’s later variants of BWB airliners.
According to NPU, the aircraft model has 16 row-abreast seats, which help reduce sideward forces on occupants in the outboard seats when the aircraft is turning. The aircraft has eight exit points, which allows for the evacuation of passengers in just 90 seconds. These features are necessary from the standpoint of obtaining certification for the airliner.
The NPU said, “The Chinese team intends to focus next on structural design and noise compaction and the development of concepts for electric- and hydrogen-powered BWBs with dispersed propulsion.”
Earlier BWB Scale Models
This is not the first time a BWB concept aircraft has been tested at this scale. Boeing’s X-48 Demonstrator, an experimental unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), was built to look into the characteristics of such an aircraft.
Boeing Phantom Works developed the BWB airliner concept in cooperation with NASA’s Langley Research Center. With the help of NASA, Boeing would go on to develop the X-48B and X-48C versions.
Airbus flew the Maveric demonstrator, a scale replica of a 200-seat BWB aircraft, in 2020. MAVERIC (Model Aircraft for Validation and Experimentation of Robust Innovative Controls) is a 2-meter-long, 3.2-meter-wide demonstrator. Furthermore, the BWB design of Airbus’ ZEROe BWB aircraft concept, which will be powered by hydrogen, provides an enormous capacity.
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Feature Image: BWB Aircraft model by Northwestern Polytechnical University (NPU).