Flight 92 of the X-48B marked the successful completion of phase 1.5 of the BWB flight test program at Edwards Air Force Base California. The 12 flights that made up phase 1.5 started in September 2010 and completed in November 2010. Phase 1.5 flights focused on additional parameter identification investigations that had been requested by NASA. The flight test program and support team is made up of personnel from Boeing, NASA and Cranfield Aerospace.
Since the completion of phase 1 in March 2010 the aircraft has been through a maintenance programme and an upgrade to a faster, more powerful flight control computer, designed and built by Cranfield.
The aircraft is currently receiving a series of additional maintenance checks and being modified to install and flight trial a turbo fan engine based on the JetCat SPT15, fitted in the centre position. The aircraft will then undergo further modification to a twin turbo fan engine configuration with additional changes to the control surface configuration. The aircraft will be redesignated X-48C.
The X-48C will then be the subject of phase 2 of the flight test programme, in support of the NASA Environmentally Responsible Aviation (ERA) Programme.
Cranfield Aerospace built two aircraft for the original programme with one being used exclusively in wind tunnel trials, firstly as the B variant and then more recently as the C variant. Between the two configurations, it has spent over 400 hours in the 60’x30’ NASA Langley wind tunnel and at an average wind speed of 64mph it has ‘travelled’ nearly 26000 miles, more than once around the world. The 2nd aircraft has now completed 92 flights, a record for an unmanned X-plane. With an average flight time of 30 minutes at an average speed of 100knots it has nearly travelled the equivalent distance from California back to Cranfield.
Boeing Research & Technology developed the unmanned X-48B flight test aircraft in co-operation with NASA and the US Air Force Research Laboratory in California, together with a dedicated team from Cranfield Aerospace, utilising their rapid prototyping, design and manufacture technologies.