The Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) hopes to have a blended wing body (BWB) demonstrator aircraft ready to fly by 2026, according to a DIU solicitation.

Such an aircraft may save the Pentagon significant fuel costs and could fill niches for the U.S. 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.

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.”

By Aug. 2, DIU wants industry concepts for a BWB that “provide 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.”

Industry concept designs for the BWB demonstrator should also address future incorporation of electronic warfare and Joint All Domain Command and Control systems, DIU said.

The Air Force’s Operational Energy Directorate (SAF/IEN) 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 has also been examining future reductions in the need for tanker aircraft. In 2020, SAF/IEN launched a pilot program with the California-based carbon transformation company, Twelve, to convert carbon dioxide and water into a viable, carbon-neutral aviation jet fuel, called E-Jet, through electrification. The company said that the Air Force tested and qualified E-Jet last summer.