NASA flying wing model soars in historic wind tunnel

Ask anyone what an airplane looks like and most will tell you a tube with wings. NASA researchers are trying to expand that image, testing a design for a flying wing called a blended wing body.

Technicians have installed a 5% scale model of a blended wing body in the Langley Full-Scale Tunnel at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. During tests in the tunnel’s 30-by-60-foot test section, pilots “flew” the 12-foot wingspan, 80-pound model. It stayed aloft in the tunnel’s wind stream constrained only by a tether cable. The flying wing is the biggest model ever free flight tested in the Full Scale Tunnel which, by the way, was also used to test the Wright Flyer replica built by the Wright Experience.

“We want to understand the edge of the envelope flight characteristics of the blended wing body,” said Dan Vicroy, blended wing body flight dynamics principal investigator. “We’re comfortable with the flight characteristics of conventional tube with wings airplanes, but we don’t have much experience with flying wings.”

NASA is working with Boeing Phantom Works, Long Beach, Calif., on this advanced, fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly airplane concept. Researchers say a blended wing body could be useful as a multi-role aircraft for the military, including functioning as a tanker, cargo or transport plane.

The blended wing body doesn’t have a conventional airplane tail, used to control pitch and yaw. Instead it uses a combination of control surfaces on the trailing edge of the wing to maneuver the airplane.

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