Open main menu

Blended wing body

Computer-generated model of the Boeing X-48
NASA's prototype of a Blended Wing aircraft

A blended wing body (BWB), Blended body or Hybrid Wing Body (HWB) is a fixed-wing aircraft having no clear dividing line between the wings and the main body of the craft.[1] The aircraft has distinct wing and body structures, which are smoothly blended together with no clear dividing line.[2] This contrasts with a flying wing, which has no distinct fuselage. A BWB design may or may not be tailless.

The main advantage of the BWB is to reduce wetted area and the accompanying form drag associated with a conventional wing-body junction. It may also be given a wide airfoil-shaped body, allowing the entire craft to generate lift and thus reducing the size and drag of the wings.

The BWB configuration is used for both aircraft and underwater gliders.


In the early 1920s Nicolas Woyevodsky developed a theory of the BWB and, following wind tunnel tests the Westland Dreadnought was built. It stalled on its first flight in 1924, severely injuring the pilot, and the project was cancelled. The idea was proposed again in the early 1940s for a Miles M.26 airliner project and the Miles M.30 "X Minor" research prototype was built to investigate it. The McDonnell XP-67 prototype interceptor also flew in 1944 but did not meet expectations.

NASA returned to the concept in the 1990s with an artificially stabilized 17-foot (5.2 m) model (6% scale) called BWB-17, built by Stanford University, which was flown in 1997 and showed good handling qualities.[3]:16 From 2000 NASA went on to develop a remotely controlled research model with a 21-foot (6.4 m) wingspan.

NASA has also jointly explored BWB designs for the Boeing X-48 unmanned aerial vehicle.[4] Studies suggested that a BWB airliner carrying from 450 to 800 passengers could achieve fuel savings of over 20 percent.[3]:21


Spectrum of aircraft design concepts. From left to right: conventional airliner, blended wing body, flying wing with bulged fairings, and almost clean flying wing.

The BWB form minimises the total wetted area - the surface area of the aircraft skin, thus reducing skin drag to a minimum. It also creates a thickening of the wing root area, allowing a more efficient structure and reduced weight compared to a conventional craft. NASA also plans to integrate Ultra High Bypass (UHB) ratio jet engines with the hybrid wing body.[5]

The wide interior spaces created by the blending pose novel structural challenges. NASA has been studying foam-clad stitched-fabric carbon fiber composite skinning to create uninterrupted cabin space.[6]

A conventional tubular fuselage carries 12-13% of the total lift compared to 31-43% carried by the centerbody in a BWB, where an intermediate lifting-fuselage configuration better suited to narrowbody sized airliners would carry 25-32% for a 6.1% - 8.2% increase in fuel efficiency.[7]

Potential advantagesEdit

Potential disadvantagesEdit

  • Evacuating a BWB in an emergency could be a challenge. Because of the aircraft's shape, the seating layout would be theatre-style instead of tubular. This imposes inherent limits on the number of exit doors.[10][11]
  • In order to fully realise the potential advantages of the BWB design in a large aircraft, the engines are typically placed above the rear fuselage. Air safety authorities have expressed a concern that in an accident they could become detached and their momentum carry them forwards so that they fall onto the passenger cabin.[citation needed]
  • Passengers are unwilling to sit in windowless environments.
  • Passengers furthest from centerline will be subject to potential discomfort during wing roll. Extreme discomfort results in motion sickness.[12]

At an American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics meeting on March 28, 2018 at the University of Washington in Seattle, Boeing's VP of Product Development and Future Airplane Development Mike Sinnett noted that as the center wingbox is also the passenger cabin, it needs to be tall enough to stand upright, translating into a large transport minimum span for multiple hundreds of passengers. For the same payload, a cargo BWB has more wingspan but is heavier empty and it is not worth it for short missions of around four or fewer hours, while long haul routes would see a benefit. However, the larger wing span may conflict with airport compatibility and containers quick loading: changing the infrastructure would need an economical improvement of more than 20% over current designs, except maybe for a military cargo aircraft. A tube-and-wing design is easier to stretch or shrink for several sub-types sharing the large development costs while a BWB can hardly be modified by its most expensive non-constant section in a non-constant way.[13]

List of blended wing body aircraftEdit

Type Country Class Role Date Status No. Notes
Boeing X-45C US UAV Experimental 2002 Prototype Tailless
Boeing X-48 US UAV Experimental 2007 Prototype Tailless
Lockheed A-12 US Jet Reconnaissance 1962 production
Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird US Jet Reconnaissance 1964 production
McDonnell XP-67 US Propeller Fighter 1944 Prototype 1 Aerofoil profile maintained throughout.
Miles M.30 UK Propeller Experimental 1942 Prototype 1
Sukhoi Okhotnik Russia UAV Attack 2017 Prototype Tailless
Tupolev Tu-404 Russia Jet Airliner Project
Westland Dreadnought UK Propeller Transport 1924 Prototype 1 Mail plane

In popular cultureEdit

Popular Science concept artEdit

Image of the "Boeing 797" from Popular Science, 2003

A concept photo of a blended wing body commercial aircraft appeared in the November 2003 issue of Popular Science magazine.[14] Artists Neill Blomkamp and Simon van de Lagemaat from The Embassy Visual Effects created the photo for the magazine using computer graphics software to depict the future of aviation and air travel.[15] In 2006 the image was used in an email hoax claiming that Boeing had developed a 1000-passenger Jet Liner (the "Boeing 797") with a "radical Blended Wing design" and Boeing had to refute the claim.[16][17][18]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Russell H. Thomas, Casey L. Burley and Erik D. Olson (2010). "Hybrid Wing Body Aircraft System Noise Assessment With Propulsion Airframe Aeroacoustic Experiments" (PDF). Retrieved 26 January 2013. Presentation Archived 2013-05-16 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Crane, Dale. Dictionary of Aeronautical Terms, third edition. Newcastle, Washington: Aviation Supplies & Academics, 1997. ISBN 1-56027-287-2. p. 224.
  3. ^ a b Liebeck, R.H. (January–February 2004). "Design of the Blended Wing Body Subsonic Transport". AIAA Journal of Aircraft. 41 (1). pp. 10–25.
  4. ^ "A flight toward the future." Archived December 4, 2012, at the Wayback Machine Boeing, August 7, 2012 Retrieved: November 23, 2012.
  5. ^ Michael Braukus / Kathy Barnstorff (Jan 7, 2013). "NASA's Green Aviation Research Throttles Up Into Second Gear". NASA. Retrieved Jan 26, 2013.
  6. ^ Bullis, Kevin (January 24, 2013). "NASA has demonstrated a manufacturing breakthrough that will allow hybrid wing aircraft to be scaled up". MIT Technology Review.
  7. ^ a b Graham Warwick (Aug 22, 2016). "Finding Ultra-Efficient Designs For Smaller Airliners". Aviation Week & Space Technology.
  8. ^ Warwick, Graham. "Boeing works with airlines on commercial blended wing body freighter." Flight International, May 21, 2007.
  9. ^ Warwick, Graham (Jan 12, 2013). "Hear This - The BWB is Quiet!". Aviation Week.
  10. ^ E. R. Galea; L. Filippidis; Z. Wang; P. J. Lawrence; J. Ewer (2011). "Evacuation Analysis of 1000+ Seat Blended Wing Body Aircraft Configurations: Computer Simulations and Full-scale Evacuation Experiment". Pedestrian and Evacuation Dynamics. pp. 151–61. doi:10.1007/978-1-4419-9725-8_14. ISBN 978-1-4419-9724-1.
  11. ^ Galea, Ed. "Evacuation analysis of 1000+ seat Blended Wing Body aircraft configurations". (video). Retrieved August 25, 2015.
  12. ^ "Boeing not convinced by blended wing aircraft design". Institution of Mechanical Engineers. June 16, 2015.
  13. ^ "Don't look for commercial BWB airplane any time soon, says Boeing's future airplanes head". Leeham News. April 3, 2018.
  14. ^ "Future of Flight." Popular Science, November 2003.
  15. ^ "Future Flight: A Gallery of the Next Century in Aviation.", October 15, 2003. Retrieved: November 22, 2012.
  16. ^ "New Boeing 797 Giant "Blended Wing" Passenger Airliner-Fiction!". March 17, 2015.
  17. ^ Christensen, Brett M. "Boeing 797 Hoax" Hoax-Slayer, April 19, 2012. Retrieved: November 22, 2012.
  18. ^ Baseler, Randy. "Air mail." Boeing blogs: Randy's Journal, November 1, 2006. Retrieved: November 22, 2012.

Further readingEdit