NASA’s X66-A test aircraft with Boeingplans to get US aviation to net zero carbon emissions by 2050

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Single-aisle passenger jets are the workhorse of commercial aviation, producing nearly half of the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions.

But a radical new wing design developed by NASA and Boeing promises to make them slimmer, cleaner and more efficient, cutting emissions by 30 percent.

NASA’s partnership to build, test and fly a large-scale demonstrator – which will bear the U.S. Air Force’s test name X-66A – will see a $425 million commitment from the space agency, as well as $725 million invested by Boeing and its industrial partner .

At the heart of the new aircraft design is a strut-supported, longer and thinner wing design, the Transonic Truss-Braced Wing, which makes better use of the hover potential and requires less fuel to propel it.

Created in partnership with Boeing, NASA’s new X-66A (model above) will use 30% less fuel in flight. To build, test and fly a full-scale demonstrator of the X-66A, the space agency will invest $425 million, while Boeing and its industry partners will commit $725 million

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the X66-A will usher in

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said the X66-A will usher in “a new era” where aircraft are “greener, cleaner and quieter.” The radical experimental aircraft joins other US Air Force-designated X aircraft such as the X-15, the world record holder for highest altitude and speed

The US Air Force has just awarded their project vaunted experimental X-plane status, meaning NASA’s new X66-A will join other revolutionary X-planes such as the North American X-15 test craft – which is still the world holds records for highest altitude (67 miles) and top speed (Mach 6.7).

NASA and Boeing’s modest goal for the X66-A is to drive “space decarbonization” to save the Earth.

“The X-66A will help shape the future of aviation,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, “a new era in which aircraft are greener, cleaner and quieter, creating new opportunities for the flying public and American industry alike.”

Combined with the partnership’s other advanced propulsion plans, new aerospace materials and electronic systems architecture, the truss wings promise to deliver 30 percent lower fuel consumption.

But this is strictly compared to the best aircraft of today. In 2019, Boeing estimated that the Transonic Truss-Braced Wing will reduce emissions and fuel costs by 60 percent compared to aircraft made in 2005, many of which are still in service today.

NASA officials said the X66-A is the first X-plane created for the specific purpose of helping the United States achieve its goal of a completely carbon-neutral aviation industry, as set by the The US White House Aviation Climate Action Plan.

NASA and Boeing's joint research into the new Transonic Truss-Braced Wing design has been running for more than a decade, at aerospace giant and in the wind tunnels at the NASA Ames Research Center

NASA and Boeing’s joint research into the new Transonic Truss-Braced Wing design has been running for more than a decade, at aerospace giant and in the wind tunnels at the NASA Ames Research Center

“To reach our goal of net-zero aviation emissions by 2050,” said Bob Pearce, associate administrator of NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, “we need transformative aircraft concepts like the one we fly on the X-66A.”

Pearce announced the US Air Force’s X-plane designation last week at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Aviation Forum in San Diego.

β€œWith this experimental aircraft, we are raising the bar to demonstrate the kinds of energy-saving, emission-reducing technologies the aviation industry needs,” said Pearce.

NASA and Boeing began the search for an X-plane designation shortly after the announcement of the Sustainable Flight Demonstrator project award last January.

But their joint research into the feasibility of this new and more efficient Transonic Truss-Braced Wing design has been going on for more than a decade, whether at Boeing or in the wind tunnels and test chambers at the NASA Ames Research Center.

Boeing’s previous name for the project was the Subsonic Ultra Green Aircraft Research Program, or SUGAR.

Currently, the plan for the X-66A is to build the demonstrator with the airframe of a McDonnell Douglas (now owned by Boeing) MD-90, a single aisle passenger jet that can accommodate 130 to 210 travelers, as used on the DC -9 family of aircraft.

The X-66A is expected to fly in 2028, with Boeing hoping to launch an entire fleet using the new design by the mid-2030s.

At the Paris Air Show on Sunday, Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Stan Deal faced questions from the press about the feasibility of the company’s schedule. Deal pointed to the decade of work with NASA testing SUGAR with the Transonic Truss-Braced Wing.

‘We are not yet on the first day’ deal said. ‘We’ve actually been at it for many years.’