“Blended wing” aircraft unveiled


Airbus has unveiled a curvaceous aircraft design that blends wing and body, designed to cut carbon emissions by 20%.

The European aircraft manufacturer has been carrying out flight tests of a 3.2 metre wide technology demonstrator, codenamed Maveric, at a secret location in central France since last year. It lifted the veil on the design at the Singapore Airshow.

The concept of a “blended wing body” design has been around since the 1940s and led to the US B-2 bomber, as well as the X-48 research project between Boeing and NASA a decade ago.

Such aircraft are complex to control but produce less drag, making them more efficient to fly.

Aircraft manufacturers are revisiting the designs as the passenger jet industry commits to more environmentally friendly aircraft.

“We believe it is high time to push this technology and study what it brings,” Jean-Brice Dumont, executive vice-president of engineering at Airbus, told reporters. “We need disruptive technologies to meet the environmental challenge. It is the next generation of aircraft; we are studying an option.”

He said it was too early to say whether the shapes could contribute to the next generation of medium-haul planes, expected in the 2030s.

Since the previous generation of tests, aerospace has seen improvements in materials making aircraft lighter and computing power increased, improving flight controls, Dumont said.

Airbus is now studying how the cabin would work and how the aircraft would be integrated into airports. An unresolved question is whether such an aircraft would have windows or use video screens to give passengers a sense of their surroundings.

Another issue dogging experiments is how to handle sensations of movement.

Because passengers would be further from the centre of the aircraft, compared to the ‘tube and wings’ model, they would move further when the aircraft turns. Rival Boeing has put more weight on a potential cargo role.