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DIU awards JetZero $230M to support blended wing body (BWB) demonstrator

The US Department of Defense’s Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) is awarding JetZero $230 million to support the next phase of the company’s blended wing body (BWB) full-scale demonstrator aircraft. The contract is the result of a collaborative effort between the US Air Force and the DIU, with assistance from DoD’s Office of Strategic Capital, and represents an important milestone in the development of a potentially transformational technology, said Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks.

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The Department of the Air Force selected JetZero for the next phase of a blended wing body prototype aircraft project.


The blended wing body concept reduces weight and drag in large part by the elimination of a conventional airliner’s tail section. Semi-buried engine nacelles further reduce drag. Their position above the aircraft also substantially reduces the aircraft’s noise signature.

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The blended wing is naturally stable and generates lift across the aircraft’s entire span. With reduced surface area and weight, less power is required—a virtuous circle leading to less fuel consumption, lower operating costs, and lower emissions to meet the industry’s commitment to net zero emissions by 2050.

For the military, projected BWB fuel savings of 30% over traditional aircraft would help mitigate logistics risks and enable critical capabilities such as increased range, loiter time, and offload capabilities.

JetZero’s demonstrator, the first in a proposed family of BWB aircraft, uses current engines and systems. The blended wing body aircraft, a design that has been under study by NASA and others for three decades [e.g., earlier post from 2007], lends itself to conversion in the future to hydrogen propulsion, which would produce zero carbon emissions.

Under the terms of the award from DIU, JetZero will receive $235 million over a four-year period, culminating in first flight of the full-scale demonstrator by the first quarter of 2027. The DIU was founded in 2015 to help the US military make faster use of emerging commercial technologies.

JetZero is collaborating with Northrop Grumman and Scaled Composites, which bring extensive experience in advanced aircraft design, manufacturing, and mission systems integration to build and test the full-scale demonstrator. JetZero has selected Pratt & Whitney GTF engines to power the demonstrator, with Pratt & Whitney GATORWORKS supporting JetZero with design and integration of the propulsion system within the demonstrator.

The BWB is the best first step on the path to zero carbon emissions. It offers 50% lower fuel burn using today’s engines and the airframe efficiency needed to support a transition to zero carbon emissions propulsion in the future. No other proposed aircraft comes close in terms of efficiency

—JetZero CEO Tom O’Leary

JetZero is leading efforts to expand BWB technology and demonstrate its capabilities for the future of aviation and the climate for both military and commercial markets.

JetZero is based at the Long Beach Airport in the Los Angeles basin. The company was founded in 2021 with the sole focus of developing the next generation of sustainable jets, accelerating the path to zero emissions.

The core of the JetZero team includes engineers who pioneered the blended wing body concept, led by JetZero founder and CTO Mark Page. As a McDonnell Douglas engineer in the 1990s, Page led a three-year NASA initiative to investigate and design future BWB properties. NASA since that time has spent more than $1 billion on research and development of blended wing technology, much of it conducted by Page and his associates.

JetZero unveiled its new design in April, with a target of serving the airline middle market (seating for 200-plus). The new airliner has multi-mission capability, including as a freighter or a refueling tanker.

The first in a family of aircraft, the middle market aircraft (MMA) will be about half the weight and require half the power of aircraft it replaces, such as the Boeing 767. It will be powered by the type of modern high-bypass engines currently used on smaller single-aisle jets. The all-composite aircraft benefits from well-understood aerodynamic concepts. Systems design is mostly conventional, permitting entry into service in the 2030s.

Comments

mahonj

If blended wing bodies are such a good idea, why haven't they been used till now?
a: They are hard to modify - you can make a tube based plane longer or shorter much more easily.
b: They are harder to pressurize than a simple cylinder.
c: They are a bit wide for airliners (cabin)
d: The wingspan is very wide for airports, might need folding wings.
Hence the delay.
Anyway lets see how it goes.

Davemart

All valid points Jim, and a good run down on why we have not already got them.

But neither the technology nor the demands of air travel remain constant.

For instance, in architecture additative manufacturing has meant that we can now build weird and wonderful shapes, wholly uneconomic previously,

Emissions and energy use were also far less of a priority.
If you are trying to electrify aircraft, for instance, then energy use climbs right up the charts of build priorities.

The use of hydrogen in aircraft, if it happens, also seems to favour the shape.

So perhaps now is just the right time for blended wing designs, but it is not a slam-dun and poses considerable challenges, as you outline.

mahonj

This design might work well with H2 craft as you'll be able to store the large H2 tanks in the hamster cheeks of the plane.
You would probably want a central pressurized tube (or oval) for the passengers, and leave the rest of the lifting body unpressurized.

Gryf

The Defense Innovation Unit’s blended wing body demonstrator program is all about the Next Generation Air Refueling System (NGAS) and the Next-Generation Airlift (NGAL) planned for 2040.
Here are two references:
https://aviationweek.com/defense-space/budget-policy-operations/what-us-air-force-wants-its-next-gen-tankers-airlifters#:~:text=The%20Air%20Force%20has%20started,of%20its%20Boeing%20KC%2D135s.

https://www.airandspaceforces.com/air-force-launches-new-stealthy-tanker-program-with-delivery-projected-for-2040/

The elimination of a conventional airliner’s tail section (AKA empennage) and the “Semi-buried engine nacelles” or embedded engines contribute to a low Radar Cross Section, i.e. Stealth.

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