NASA once again flying revolutionary unmanned aircraft with new modifications

After 92 test flights as the X-48B Blended Wing Body aircraft, NASA has modified the unmanned aircraft and is now flying a quieter version designated the X-48C. The remotely piloted X-48C aircraft successfully flew for the first time Tuesday at Edwards Air Force Base in California's Mojave Desert, according to a NASA press release.

Designed by Boeing and built by the U.K.’s Cranfield Aerospace, the new X-48C was modified to evaluate the low-speed stability and control of a low-noise version of a notional, future Hybrid Wing Body (HWB) aircraft design. The HWB design stems from concept studies being conducted by NASA's Environmentally Responsible Aviation project of future potential aircraft designs 20 years from now.

Primary changes to the C model from the B model were geared to transforming it to an airframe noise-shielding configuration. External modifications included relocating the wingtip winglets inboard next to the engines, effectively turning them into twin tails. In addition, engineers replaced the X-48B's three 50-pound-thrust jet engines with two 89-pound-thrust engines. The flight control system software was also modified to handle the new configuration.

The X-48C retains most dimensions of the B model, with a wingspan just longer than 20 feet and a weight of about 500 pounds. The aircraft has an estimated top speed of about 140 mph, and a maximum altitude of 10,000 feet.

During the planned second block of flight testing this fall, NASA will test engine yaw control software incorporated in the X-48C's flight computer. This research will use asymmetric engine thrust to create yaw, or nose left or right movements, for trim and for relatively slow maneuvers.

NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate and Boeing are funding the X-48 technology demonstration research effort, which supports NASA's goals of reduced fuel burn, emissions and noise.

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