NASA flew a model of its planned flying wing aircraft this week in the Langley Research Center’s wind tunnel in Hampton, Va.
Technicians installed a scale model of the planned blended wing body in the tunnel and then pilots flew the 12-foot wingspan, 80-pound model. It stayed aloft in the tunnel’s wind stream constrained only by a cable.
We want to understand the edge of the envelope flight characteristics of the blended wing body, said Dan Vicroy, the project’s principal investigator. We’re comfortable with the flight characteristics of conventional tube with wings airplanes, but we don’t have much experience with flying wings.
Scientists said much more testing is needed before the flying wing could be safely introduced as a transport aircraft. The blended wing body doesn’t have a conventional airplane tail, using instead a combination of control surfaces on the trailing edge of the wing to maneuver the aircraft.
Questions that need to be answered include how to build a lightweight structure that can be pressurized. It’s easy to pressurize a tube, but not as easy to pressurize a non-cylindrical shape, Vicroy said.