The U.S. Air Force has selected aviation startup JetZero to design and build a working prototype of its revolutionary blended-wing body (BWB) aircraft.
The $235 million contract aims to mature BWB technology and demonstrate its capabilities, giving the department and commercial industry more options for future air platforms.
JetZero and the Air Force are aiming for the full-size demonstrator plane to take flight in 2027.
The BWB aircraft design is unlike any traditional tube-and-wing aircraft. The BWB blends the aircraft body into its high-aspect-ratio wing, decreasing aerodynamic drag by at least 30% and providing additional lift. This increased efficiency will allow for extended range, more loiter time, and increased payload delivery efficiencies, capabilities that are vital to mitigating logistics risks.
“Blended wing body aircraft have the potential to significantly reduce fuel demand and increase global reach,” said Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall. “Moving forces and cargo quickly, efficiently, and over long distances is a critical capability to enable national security strategy.”
Several military transport configurations are possible with the BWB design. Together, these aircraft types account for approximately 60% of the Air Force’s total annual jet fuel consumption.
While the concept of a blended-wing body has been around for some time, more recent technology advancements in structural design, materials technology, manufacturing, and other areas have made large-scale production achievable. The commercial industry also benefits from the development of this technology, increasing available cabin or cargo space while decreasing operational fuel costs.
The Department of Defense plans to invest $235 million over the next four years to fast-track the development of this transformational dual-use technology, with additional private investment expected.
“It’s been a little over a hundred years since a few brave Airmen took to the skies and proved the first aerial refueling capability, extending the global reach of our Air Force. This announcement marks another game-changing milestone for the Air Force in our efforts to maintain the advantage of airpower effectiveness against any future competitors,” said Dr. Ravi Chaudhary, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Energy, Installations, and Environment.