NASA and Boeing present the X-66A, their newest X-plane

NASA and Boeing plane

The US Air Force has classified NASA and Boeing’s latest experimental X-plane as the X-66A. The aircraft, developed as part of the agency’s Sustainable Flight Demonstrator (SFD) project, is the first X-plane designed expressly to assist the United States in meeting the objective of net-zero aviation greenhouse gas emissions, as outlined in the White House’s Climate Action Plan.

The new X-plane aims to educate a prospective new generation of single-aisle aircraft that are the backbone of passenger airlines all over the world and are more environmentally friendly. Boeing will develop, test, and fly a full-scale demonstrator of the Transonic Truss-Braced Wing idea, an airplane with unusually long, thin wings supported by diagonal struts, in collaboration with NASA.

The Air Force awards “X-plane” status to research and development initiatives that aim to produce cutting-edge experimental aircraft configurations. The designation is for aircraft used for research. With a few notable exceptions, X-planes are not designed to serve as full-production prototypes, but rather to test designs and technologies that can be incorporated into future aircraft designs.

When combined with other developments in propulsion systems, materials, and systems architecture, the Transonic Truss-Braced Wing configuration, validated by the X-66A, could result in up to 30% less fuel consumption and reduced emissions when compared to today’s best-in-class aircraft.

“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, who announced the designation at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Aviation Forum in San Diego

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. 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.

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