Blended wing body

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Computer-generated model of the Boeing X-48
NASA's prototype of a Blended Wing aircraft

A Blended wing body (BWB or Hybrid Wing Body, HWB[1]) is a fixed-wing aircraft having no clear dividing line between the wings and the main body of the craft. The form is composed of distinct wing and body structures, though the wings are smoothly blended into the body, unlike a flying wing which has no distinct fuselage.[2] A BWB design may or may not be tailless.

The potential advantages of the BWB approach are efficient high-lift wings and a wide airfoil-shaped body. This enables the entire craft to generate lift, potentially reducing the size and drag of the wings. A blended wing body can have a lift-to-drag ratio significantly greater than a conventional craft, offering improved fuel economy.

The BWB configuration is used for both aircraft and underwater gliders.


The 1924 Westland Dreadnought was built on the basis of the theories of M. Woyevodsky after wind tunnel tests. It stalled on its first flight, severely injuring the pilot, and the project was shelved by the British Air Ministry.

The Miles M.30 "X Minor" of the early 1940s was an experimental aircraft to test the blended wing fuselage design for a proposed large airliner. The McDonnell XP-67 prototype interceptor also flew in 1944 but did not come up to expectations.

NASA studied the concept more recently with a computer stabilized 17-foot model (6% scale) called BWB-17, built by Stanford University, which was flown in 1997 and showed good handling qualities.[3] From 2000 NASA went on to develop a remotely controlled model with a 21 ft (6.4 m) wingspan. This research is focused on establishing the base data concerning the lift, stall and spin characteristics inherent in a Blended Wing Body design.

NASA has also jointly explored BWB designs with the X-48 unmanned aerial vehicle.[4] Studies suggest that BWB aircraft, configured for passenger flight, could carry from 450 to 800 passengers and achieve fuel savings of over 20 percent.[5] Other suggestions are better access to emergency exits.[6] Unfortunately potential passengers disliked the internal seating arrangements and the program changed its focus toward cargo aircraft.[citation needed]


Spectrum of aircraft design concepts; (from left to right) conventional airliner, blended wing body, flying wing with bulged fairings and almost clean flying wing. Note that this does not represent either a chronological or technological order. The Boeing 757 (far left) is a modern commercial aircraft, while the Northrop YB-49 (far right) actually predates all other depicted aircraft.

The BWB form minimises the total wetted area - the surface area of the aircraft skin, thus reducing skin drag to a minimum. It also creates a thickening of the wing root area, allowing a more efficient structure and reduced weight compared to a conventional craft. NASA also plans to integrate Ultra High Bypass (UHB) ratio jet engines with the hybrid wing body.[7]

The wide interior spaces created by the blending pose novel structural challenges. NASA has been studying foam-clad stitched-fabric carbon fiber composite skinning to create uninterrupted cabin space.[8]

Potential advantages[edit]

Potential passenger safety problems[edit]

  • Evacuating a BWB in an emergency could be a challenge. Because of the aircraft's shape, the seating layout would be theatre-style instead of tubular. This imposes inherent limits on the number of exit doors.[11][12]
  • In order to fully realise the potential advantages of the BWB design in a large aircraft, the engines are typically placed above the rear fuselage. Air safety authorities have expressed a concern that in an accident they could become detached and their momentum carry them forwards so that they fall onto the passenger cabin.[citation needed]

Marine applications[edit]

The BWB concept is also being used in underwater gliders. The U.S. Navy Office of Naval Research is testing an autonomous glider called the Liberdade Class.

In popular culture[edit]

Popular Science concept[edit]

The image of the "Boeing 797", used in the hoax email, first appeared in the Popular Science magazine in 2003.

A concept photo of a blended wing body commercial aircraft appeared in the October 2003 issue of Popular Science magazine.[13] Artists Neill Blomkamp and Simon van de Lagemaat from The Embassy Visual Effects created the photo for the magazine using computer graphics software to depict the future of aviation and air travel.[14] It is likely the photo was inspired[citation needed] by models of BWB-450, a pre-X-48 concept designed in the late 1990s, or the X-48A concept designed around 2001.[15] The image was subsequently used in emails since 2006 claiming that Boeing has developed a "1000 passenger Jet Liner" (the "Boeing 797") with a "radical Blended Wing design" in direct competition to the Airbus A380. Boeing denied the claim at the time.[16][17]

List of blended wing body aircraft[edit]

Type Country Date Role Status Notes
AVIC 601-S China UAV Tailless. Series of variants.
Boeing X-45C USA 2002 unmanned aircraft
Boeing X-48 USA 2007
Dassault nEUROn UAV Tailless
Lockheed Martin RQ-3 DarkStar USA 1996
Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel 2007 UAV Tailless
McDonnell XP-67 USA 1944 Fighter Prototype Twin propellers. Maintained aerofoil profile throughout.
Miles M.30 UK 1942 Research Prototype
Northrop Grumman X-47 Pegasus USA 2003 unmanned aircraft
Silent Aircraft Initiative 2003
Stout Batwing
Westland Dreadnought UK 1924 mailplane prototype sole example destroyed in accident

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Russell H. Thomas, Casey L. Burley and Erik D. Olson (2010). "Hybrid Wing Body Aircraft System Noise Assessment With Propulsion Airframe Aeroacoustic Experiments" (PDF). Retrieved 26 January 2013.  Presentation
  2. ^ Crane 1997, p. 224.
  3. ^ Liebeck 2004, p. 16.
  4. ^ "A flight toward the future." Boeing, August 7, 2012 Retrieved: November 23, 2012.
  5. ^ Liebeck 2004, p. 21.
  6. ^ Liebeck 2004, p. 24.
  7. ^ Michael Braukus / Kathy Barnstorff (Jan 7, 2013). "NASA's Green Aviation Research Throttles Up Into Second Gear". NASA. Retrieved Jan 26, 2013. 
  8. ^ Bullis, Kevin (January 24, 2013). "NASA has demonstrated a manufacturing breakthrough that will allow hybrid wing aircraft to be scaled up.". Technology Review. Retrieved January 26, 2013. 
  9. ^ Warwick, Graham. "Boeing works with airlines on commercial blended wing body freighter." Flight International, May 21, 2007.
  10. ^ Warwick, Graham (Jan 11, 2013). "Hear This - The BWB is Quiet!". Aviation Week. Retrieved Jan 26, 2013. 
  11. ^ E. R. Galea, L. Filippidis, Z. Wang, P. J. Lawrence, J. Ewer (2011). "Evacuation Analysis of 1000+ Seat Blended Wing Body Aircraft Configurations: Computer Simulations and Full-scale Evacuation Experiment". Pedestrian and Evacuation Dynamics. pp. 151–61. doi:10.1007/978-1-4419-9725-8_14. ISBN 978-1-4419-9724-1. 
  12. ^ Galea, Ed. "Evacuation analysis of 1000+ seat Blended Wing Body aircraft configurations". (video). Retrieved August 25, 2015. 
  13. ^ "Future of Flight." Popular Science, October 2003.
  14. ^ "Future Flight: A Gallery of the Next Century in Aviation.", October 15, 2003. Retrieved: November 22, 2012.
  15. ^ Chambers, Joseph R. NASA SP-2005-4539 "Innovation In Flight: Research Of The NASA Langley Research Center On Revolutionary Advanced Concepts For Aeronautics". NASA, August 22, 2005.
  16. ^ Christensen, Brett M. "Boeing 797 Hoax" Hoax-Slayer, April 19, 2012. Retrieved: November 22, 2012.
  17. ^ Baseler, Randy. "Air mail." Boeing blogs: Randy's Journal, November 1, 2006. Retrieved: November 22, 2012.


External links[edit]