US Air Force backs creation of sleek blended-wing body plane

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The US Air Force has promised $US235 million ($365 million) to help start-up manufacturer JetZero build a jet with a blended-wing body that officials say could provide greater range and efficiency for military tankers and cargo planes and perhaps eventually be used to carry airline passengers.

JetZero and the Air Force, which announced the award on Wednesday, say they hope that the full-size demonstrator plane will be ready to fly in 2027.

The blended wing body prototype aircraft being designed for the US Air Force.

Most large airplanes are tubes with wings and a tail section attached. Blended-wing planes are designed with the body and wings being one piece.

The result is a sleek, futuristic-looking aircraft with less aerodynamic drag than a conventional plane of the same size.

JetZero officials argue that traditional planes are running out of ways to improve fuel efficiency, and, with fuel prices likely to rise, an entirely new design is needed to reduce fuel consumption and emissions.

Using technology that company officials have refined with NASA over 30 years, Los Angeles-based JetZero aims to introduce a commercial version of its aircraft by early next decade, according to its website.

An artist’s rendering of the new prototype design.Credit: JetZero

The Air Force, the Pentagon’s Defence Innovation Unit and NASA are working on the project. JetZero has a partner in defence contractor Northrup Grumman.

The idea of a blended-wing body is not new. Boeing built and tested reduced-scale samples of its X-48. Lockheed Martin has tested a Hybrid Wing Body design in wind tunnels.

At a briefing Wednesday, officials said the JetZero demonstrator could determine whether a blended-wing body could be used in future refuelling tankers and cargo planes for the Air Force.

JetZero’s design is a “game-changing milestone” in the Defence Department’s effort to stay ahead of its competitors, said Ravi Chaudhary, an assistant secretary of the Air Force.

“Moving forces and cargo quickly, efficiently, and over long distance is a critical capability to enable national security strategy,” said Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall.

AP, Bloomberg

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