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Boeing wins $425M from NASA to build super-efficient airplane


An artist’s conception shows Boeing’s Transonic Truss-Braced Wing design in flight. (Boeing Illustration)

NASA says it’ll give Boeing $425 million over the next seven years for the development and flight testing of a new breed of fuel-efficient airplane with ultra-thin wings.

The innovative airplane design could produce fuel savings of up to 30%, and blaze the trail for the aviation industry’s effort to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. “If we are successful, we may see these technologies in planes that the public takes to the skies in the 2030s,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a news release.

Boeing’s Transonic Truss-Based Wing concept, or TTBW, involves building an aircraft with extra-long, extra-thin wings that spread over the top of the fuselage. Extra stabilization would be provided by diagonal struts attached beneath the fuselage. One configuration calls for foldable wings that are 170 feet wide — which is 27 feet shorter than the wingspan of a 787 Dreamliner but 53 feet wider than the wingspan of a 737 MAX 8.

The TTBW design is meant to accommodate advanced propulsion systems that are limited by a lack of underwing space in today’s low-wing configuration for single-aisle aircraft.

Boeing says the wing design alone could produce a fuel savings of as much as 10%. And when combined with additional advances in propulsion systems, materials and systems architecture, a single-aisle TTBW airplane could reduce fuel consumption and emissions by as much as 30%, Boeing says.

NASA will provide $425 million to support the development and testing of a TTBW demonstrator, while Boeing and its industry partners will kick in the remainder of the required funding, estimated at $725 million. For the demonstration project, Boeing will integrate elements from existing flight vehicles with all-new components.

Boeing’s Sustainable Flight Demonstrator program “has the potential to make a major contribution toward a sustainable future,” Greg Hyslop, Boeing chief engineer and executive vice president of engineering, said in a news release. “It represents an opportunity to design, build and fly a full-scale experimental plane while solving novel technical problems.”

Boeing has invested $110 million in recent phases of sustainable aviation research. Under previous NASA programs — including the agency’s Subsonic Ultra Green Aircraft Research program, or SUGAR — Boeing conducted extensive wind tunnel testing to support TTBW design work.

Boeing says it’s still finalizing its list of industry partners and the locations where the work will take place. But based on Boeing’s job listings, the primary work locations for developing the TTBW demonstrator are likely to include the Puget Sound region; the Washington, D.C., area; and Huntington Beach, Calif.


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