BWB a big challenge

To some, the Blended Wing Body airplane seems like a great idea. We like it, too. It’s highly fuel efficient–estimated to be up to 30% more so than the Airbus A380. The body acts as lift, providing a lot of the efficiency.

It’s voluminous. It can carry more than 1,000 people and it has great cargo-carrying capability. It’s also been discussed as an aerial refueling tanker for the US Air Force.

Source: AircraftDesign.com

It’s in model testing by Boeing and NASA. And it’s futuristic, one of the more cool-looking planes (not that this is a practical consideration–Boeing’s Sonic Cruiser was cool, too).

But is it practical?

Billy Glover, Boeing’s environmental bio-fuels engineer, was asked about the BWB at the ATW-Leeham Co. Eco-Aviation Conference and whether this is really the answer to saving fuel in the future. Airlines want airplanes that are at least 20% more fuel efficient than today’s Airbus A320s and 737s and engine makers and the airframers are struggling to meet and exceed this demand with today’s technology.

The BWB, which can be made in different sizes, would seem to be an answer.

Glover didn’t dismiss the idea but he said there were challenges beyond those that are already well known. These well-known challenges are controlability, passenger acceptance (many would be without windows) and the possibility that those seated in the outer edges of the cabin might be more prone to air sickness as the plane turns and banks.

Glover added two more considerations, two that don’t mean much to the passenger (if at all) but which is a major concern to the manufacturer. One is the volume of material to build the BWB compared with the conventional tube-and-wing aircraft. While Glover didn’t give a materials comparison (e.g., the 737 requires X pounds of material and a BWB 737 would require Y pounds of material,) the airplane certainly appears to be more material-intensive, he pointed to the second major concern that perhaps is the greater concern to the airframers: how to you build a family of BWBs?

Unlike the tube-and-wing aircraft, the BWB doesn’t appear that it can be stretched. The 737 began as a 100-passenger -100 and since introduction in 1967 has been stretched many more times to be capable of carrying 200 passengers. A BWB can enlarge or decrease in size, but can it be stretched?

Glover raises a good point. And this may mean it will be a long time before the the BWB sees commercial service.

8 Comments on “BWB a big challenge

  1. Nobody ever mentions just how you get a cabin-load of passengers out of one of these short fat cabins. What do you do when the emergency exit and the window is 40 feet away?

  2. The Airbus A380 most probabely is the last new large capacity jet, he was the last of his kind.
    About 2010 to 2020, a fundamental paradigm change in intercontinental flight will take place, with solar powered flying hubs/platforms staying in flight all the time, surrounding the earth, resembling a conveyor belt, and smaller shuttle aircrafts bringing passengers and freight to the hubs and/or fetching them from the hubs and bring them back to earth.

    • never heard of that but youmake it sounds like the intercontinental will stay up there, and the pod planes will fly up to them and move passengers across into them.

      that would be very funny !! Lucky i am a rock climber used to flying across ravines on steel wires 🙂

    • Yeah, 2016 and no solar flying airhubs in the sky yet.
      Asimov would be proud of your forward thinking. Science, however seems to be lagging a bit.

  3. Unfortunately, no one will build these until Burnelli patents are sold. They have zero interest in paying patent royalties for things Burnelli designed in the ’60s (the airplane of the future, almost to every detail).
    They wouldn’t build the B-2 until they’d bought Northrup, since they had a grudge against Jack Northrup and did’t want to pay him any royalties either.

    All the supposed concerns with them don’t matter since they’re manageable, and they’re all worth it for planes (according to Boring internal studies for their 754 design, and now NASA studies for “future aircraft”) that fly twice as far or with twice the payload, higher cruise altitude & higher cruise speed, and 60kts slower stall speed, and mild but responsive handling and exceptional stability.

  4. The Boeing 777X just started flight testing today — it may be years before a passenger BWB is greenlighted by the airline industry, and if Boeing ever builds a full-size BWB based on the X-48, it will likely initially be used for both commercial airfreight and military purposes (heavy airlift, in-flight refueling) because passengers were lukewarm about . The Northrop Grumman B-21, like the B-2, shows that all-wing tailless aircraft are the future of American bombardment planes.

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