Groundbreaking ‘Blended-Wing’ | ‘JetZero’ Demonstrator Plane Cleared To Fly

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LONDON: While energy sources are still evolving, UK-based Faradair Aerospace is developing a design to squeeze the maximum efficiency out of whichever fuel prevails.

Faradair’s 18-passenger BEHA aircraft, made from lightweight composite and shown here in a rendering, can carry a five-ton payload and has a 1,150-mile range.

While energy sources are still evolving, UK-based Faradair Aerospace is developing a design to squeeze the maximum efficiency out of whichever fuel prevails.

Faradair’s 18-passenger BEHA aircraft, made from lightweight composite and shown here in a rendering, can carry a five-ton payload and has a 1,150-mile range.

The basic design of commercial airplanes hasn’t changed much in the past 60 years. Modern airliners like the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350 have the same general shape as the Boeing 707 and the Douglas DC-8, which were built in the late 1950s and solidified the “tube and wing” form factor that is still in use today.

This is because commercial aviation prioritizes safety, favoring tried-and-tested solutions, and because other developments — in materials and engines, for example — mean the traditional design is still relevant.

However, a seismic shake-up is about to take place. An entirely new aircraft shape has been cleared to take off into California skies. At the end of last month, Long Beach-based JetZero announced that Pathfinder, its 1:8 scale “blended wing body” demonstrator plane, has been granted an FAA Airworthiness certificate and test flights are imminent.

As the industry desperately looks for ways to reduce carbon emissions, it faces a somewhat tougher challenge than other sectors precisely because its core technologies have proven so hard to move away from. It’s a ripe time to innovate.

The “blended wing body” looks similar to the “flying wing” design used by military aircraft such as the iconic B-2 bomber, but the blended wing has more volume in the middle section. Both Boeing and Airbus are tinkering with the idea, and JetZero’s new milestone brings it a little closer to its ambitious goal of putting into service a blended wing aircraft as soon as 2030.

“We feel very strongly about a path to zero emissions in big jets, and the blended wing airframe can deliver 50% lower fuel burn and emissions,” Tom O’Leary, co-founder and CEO of JetZero, told CNN in August 2023. “That is a staggering leap forward in comparison to what the industry is used to.”

The blended wing concept is far from new, and the earliest attempts at building airplanes with this design date back to the late 1920s in Germany. American aircraft designer and industrialist Jack Northrop created a jet-powered flying wing design in 1947, which inspired the B-2 in the 1990s.

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