For years, Boeing has been working on an aircraft concept called the blended wing-body (BWB). The idea here is that if an aircraft’s body is shaped like an airfoil, and tapers cleanly into the airfoil shape of its wings, you should be able to dramatically improve the fuel economy of the craft as well as reduce the amount of noise it generates on takeoff and landing. You wind up with an exotic looking thing, about midway between a conventional aircraft and a flying wing, but controlling it can be tricky.
So NASA, Boeing, and the Air Force Research Laboratory together built a BWB technology demonstrator — a 500-pound remote-control model aircraft — to test its behavior and refine its control scheme. This demonstrator, dubbed the X-48B, has just completed the first phase of flight testing. Here’s some video from its flight tests to date (my apologies to iPad owners, it uses flash):
Future commercial aircraft may well look like the X-48B — although, apparently, they’ll most likely find their way into cargo carriers first (but given that there won’t be window seats on a BWB aircraft, that might be no loss for many people).