Boeing is working with two potential customers to define a commercial freighter variant of its blended wing body large transport aircraft as it prepares to fly a subscale model of the flying-wing design at NASA Dryden in California.
“We have been working with a couple of customers,” says George Muellner, president, advanced systems, for Boeing Integrated Defense Systems. “We have a
customer, we have finalised what they want, and it is now an issue of customer funding and our desire to invest.”
Boeing has been working on the BWB concept for years, but the design is still at an early stage.
“The earliest it could be out there is eight to 10 years, initially as a commercial freighter and beyond that for military applications,” says Muellner.
He says two issues need to be overcome before the BWB becomes a reality. The first is an understanding of the design’s low-speed flying qualities. This will be tackled with the two X-48B unmanned subscale vehicles now at Dryden. Flight testing is expected to begin next month.
The second is manufacturability. “The basic design is not a tube, it’s a rectangular pressure vessel, so material design is an issue,” Muellner says. “The internal structure is like an array of ISO containers,” he says, which is one part of its appeal to freight operators. “It’s fuel efficient and it’s easy to load.”
Boeing Commercial Airplanes has been careful to distance itself from the military division’s work on BWB because of concerns about passenger acceptance. “BCA is scared because it has no windows,” says Muellner.
Read Kieran Daly's blog on whether airsickness will kill the BWB as a passenger aircraft