The Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), the U.S. Air Force, and NASA are collaborating on the Blended Wing Body (BWB) demonstrator.
DIU hopes to have the demonstrator ready to fly by 2026, according to a DIU solicitation (Defense Daily, July 27).
Such an aircraft may save the Pentagon significant fuel costs and could fill niches for the Air Force for a future cargo aircraft or even the KC-Z tanker, which may incorporate stealth features.
Under BWB, the wings are not distinct from the aircraft body but blended into it, and the engine may be on top of the aircraft or embedded in the airframe, “giving additional lift, range, and efficiency while improving survivability,” DIU said.
“DIU was chosen, on behalf of the Air Force, to support program execution due to its organizational history focused exclusively on fielding and scaling commercial technology across the U.S. military at commercial speeds,” Justin Wilson, the DIU program manager for BWB, wrote in an email response to a question on why the solicitation was by DIU, not the Air Force.
The Air Force’s Operational Energy Directorate (SAF/IEN), which is sponsoring BWB, said that tanker, cargo, and non-stealth bombers account for 60 percent of the Air Force’s annual fuel burn of 1.2 billion gallons and that BWB aircraft across the tanker, cargo, and non-stealth bomber fleets could save the Air Force $1 billion annually in fuel costs and yield annual emissions reductions of 3.3 million metric tons.
SAF/IEN “is working collaboratively with DIU and NASA to explore BWB design, performance, and long-term viability to provide the U.S. Air Force with enhanced combat capability and mitigate operational risk to the warfighter through innovated energy solutions,” DIU’s Wilson wrote in his email.
In 2013, NASA and Boeing completed flight testing of Boeing’s X-48 BWB demonstrator at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center (Defense Daily, April 14, 2013).
The new DIU solicitation seeks a BWB demonstrator that provides at least 30 percent more aerodynamic efficiency than the Boeing [BA] 767 and Airbus A330 fleets of commercial and military aircraft. BWB military aircraft would carry “operational advantages such as increased range, loiter time, and offload capabilities,” DIU said. “When integrated with projected 2030 engine technology, this advanced aircraft configuration is expected to provide at least 60 percent mission fuel burn reduction compared to current day technology.”
DIU also wants industry BWB concepts to address future incorporation of electronic warfare and Joint All Domain Command and Control systems.
DoD is “the largest consumer of petroleum-based energy in the federal government, contributing to 77 percent of overall consumption,” per the DIU solicitation. “The majority of that is attributed to fuel for aircraft sorties supporting global operations. Decades of research and development indicate that advanced airframes such as blended wing body aircraft present aerodynamic efficiencies that could both reduce fuel consumption and increase operational effectiveness, enabling longer-range sorties and reduced fuel logistics/supply chain risks.”