Over the coming decades, could we see a fundamental change in the way in which aircraft are constructed? NASA and the United States Air Force, in cooperation with Boeing, have unveiled a prototype they are calling the X-66A, an experimental X-plane that the US military hopes will help it achieve its net-zero goal for aviation greenhouse gas emissions and serve as a model for future commercial aircraft.
NASA And Boeing Introduce X-66A – The Future Of Commercial Flight?
The National Aeronautic and Space Administration’s (NASA) Sustainable Flight Demonstrator project was started “to engage with industry, academia, and other government organizations to identify, select, and mature key airframe technologies – such as new wing designs – that have a high probability of transition to the next generation single-aisle seat class airliner.”
The centerpiece of the project is an experimental airplane, previously simply called an X-plane, that Boeing and NASA are working to construct that services two goals. First, it must achieve fuel consumption and emissions reductions. Second, its development is not solely for military or space purposes, but as a future commercial single-aisle transport aircraft.
According to NASA’s ambitious timetable, the new aircraft type will take to the air in 2028, laying the groundwork for the next generation of single-aisle jets in the 2030s.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson explained:
“At NASA, our eyes are not just focused on stars but also fixated on the sky. The Sustainable Flight Demonstrator builds on NASA’s world-leading efforts in aeronautics as well climate. The X-66A will help shape the future of aviation, a new era where aircraft are greener, cleaner, and quieter, and create new possibilities for the flying public and American industry alike.”
An X-plane differs from the sort of aircraft that flies today in that it has longer and thinner wings stabilized by diagonal struts, a design Boeing calls a “Transonic Truss-Braced Wing.” Rather than require a wholly new aircraft design, Boeing is testing whether this technology can be integrated onto existing aircraft, much like we ahve seen scimitar-style winglets pop up on older jets.
Boeing and NASA have worked on experimental aircraft together since the 1940s (at that time NASA was called the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics or NACA).
NASA, the USAF, and Boeing have unveiled a specific prototype called the X-66 that it hopes will lead to improve efficiencies and reduced carbon emission. NASA explained, “With this experimental aircraft, we’re aiming high to demonstrate the kinds of energy-saving, emissions-reducing technologies the aviation industry needs.” Time will tell whether the prototypes we are seeing today will indeed be the aircraft of the future.