Ford opens Cologne EV Center; annual capacity of 250,000+ EVs
Rheinmetall wins new order for high-voltage electric fuel cell coolant pumps for 800V architecture

Transonic Truss-Braced Wing concept aircraft becomes NASA’s newest X-plane: X-66A

NASA and Boeing announced Monday evening at a presentation at AIAA Aviation in San Diego that the aircraft produced through the agency’s Sustainable Flight Demonstrator project has been designated by the US Air Force as the X-66A. (Earlier post.)


The new X-plane seeks to inform a potential new generation of more sustainable single-aisle aircraft—the workhorse of passenger airlines around the world. Working with NASA, Boeing will build, test, and fly a full-scale demonstrator aircraft with extra-long, thin wings stabilized by diagonal struts, known as a Transonic Truss-Braced Wing concept.

The X-66A is the first X-plane specifically focused on helping the United States achieve the goal of net-zero aviation greenhouse gas emissions, which was articulated in the White House’s US Aviation Climate Action Plan.

To reach our goal of net zero aviation emissions by 2050, we need transformative aircraft concepts like the ones we’re flying on the X-66A. With this experimental aircraft, we’re aiming high to demonstrate the kinds of energy-saving, emissions-reducing technologies the aviation industry needs.

—Bob Pearce, associate administrator for NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate

NASA and Boeing sought the X-plane designation shortly after the agency announced the Sustainable Flight Demonstrator project award earlier this year. The Air Force confers X-plane status for development programs that set out to create revolutionary experimental aircraft configurations. The designation is for research aircraft. With few exceptions, X-planes are intended to test designs and technologies that can be adopted into other aircraft designs, not to serve as prototypes for full production.

We’re incredibly proud of this designation, because it means that the X-66A will be the next in a long line of experimental aircraft used to validate breakthrough designs that have transformed aviation. With the learnings gained from design, construction, and flight-testing, we’ll have an opportunity to shape the future of flight and contribute to the decarbonization of aerospace.

—Todd Citron, Boeing chief technology officer

For the X-66A, the Air Force provided the designation for an aircraft that validates technologies for a Transonic Truss-Braced Wing configuration that, when combined with other advancements in propulsion systems, materials, and systems architecture, could result in up to 30% less fuel consumption and reduced emissions when compared with today’s best-in-class aircraft.


Due to their heavy usage, single-aisle aircraft today account for nearly half of worldwide aviation emissions. Creating designs and technologies for a more sustainable version of this type of aircraft has the potential for profound impact on emissions.

NASA’s history with the X-plane designation dates to the 1940s, when its predecessor agency, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) jointly created an experimental aircraft program with the Air Force and the US Navy. The X-66A is the latest in a long line of NASA X-planes. Additionally, NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, has provided technical expertise and support for several additional X-planes.

For the Sustainable Flight Demonstrator, NASA has a Funded Space Act Agreement with Boeing through which the agency will invest $425 million over seven years, while the company and its partners will contribute the remainder of the funding, estimated at about $725 million. NASA also will contribute technical expertise and facilities.

The Sustainable Flight Demonstrator project is an activity under NASA’s Integrated Aviation Systems Program and a key element of the agency’s Sustainable Flight National Partnership, which focuses on developing new sustainable aviation technologies.



"when combined with other advancements in propulsion systems, materials, and systems architecture, could result in up to 30% less fuel"
So, lets say 15% from the wing and 15% from the propulsion systems.
Good, but not (even close) to zero.
IMO, the airframers are paralyzed about what to do - do they improve the JetA engines and planes, or go all out to H2, Methanol or ammonia?
Given that it costs at least $10B to design and build a new plane, these are not decisions to be taken lightly.
The problem is that JetA can be stored in any tank shape whereas high pressure or low temperature fuels require much rounder or cylindrical tanks, and thus the aircraft designs will be very different.

Thomas Pedersen

Airbus has made outline designs for hydrogen planes (liquid hydrogen in 'potato'-shaped tank in the rear of the fuselage) with +1800nm range, which can actually cover most intra-EU journeys. At below 300 nm, batteries may actually win out, where high-speed rail will not cover the market.

For any longer haul flights, it is more efficient to extract CO2 from the atmosphere and take the energy penalty on the ground of converting hydrogen to hydro-carbon fuels (synthetic JetA) than to haul a heavy energy+tank solution a thousand times around the Earth in its lifetime. And it's certainly possible. At 2$/kg for hydrogen and 50% conversion as proxy for cost, JetA could be as low as 4$/kgH2 = 1.5 $/kg JetA. This is almost within the historical cost of Jet fuel in 2012-2014, and certainly feasible from a cost perspective - not least with additional fuel saving measures, such as the truss-braced high-aspect ratio wings.

The comments to this entry are closed.