Air Force selects JetZero for blended-wing body prototype plane – DNyuz

Air Force selects JetZero for blended-wing body prototype plane

The U.S. Air Force has chosen California startup JetZero to build and test a wing-shaped airplane–which may influence the design of the service’s future mobility planes.

The service announced the winner of a Defense Innovation Unit-led competition for a blended-wing body prototype on Tuesday at an Air & Space Forces Association event.

“This project is intended to speed up the development of the Air Force’s future large aircraft fleet. The design is a more streamlined version of the traditional tube-and-wing configuration, which will increase aerodynamic efficiency as well as mission capability,” stated Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall.

JetZero said in April it was partnering with Northrop Grumman on a blended-wing tanker design, called Z-5, which could position the company to build the Air Force’s future aerial refueler, NGAS, and its next-gen airlifter, NGAL.

However, the JetZero prototype is just a “demonstrator,” and shouldn’t be linked directly to NGAS or NGAL, said Maj. Gen. Albert Miller, Air Mobility Command’s director of strategy, plans, requirements, and programs.

“There’s no presumption, right, that this is necessarily the answer for NGAS, but we think that it could be informative in this process,” Miller said. “We are not even to the [analysis of alternatives] stage for NGAS so it would be very premature to say that this is the NGAS solution.”

The Air Force is considering a blended-wing design for future aircraft because it’s much more fuel efficient than traditional airframes. The JetZero offering is estimated to carry twice the fuel of a Boeing KC-46 tanker.

Fuel-efficiency is necessary in the Indo-Pacific as “operational power will be the difference between victory and defeat in a conflict with a peer,” Ravi Chaudhary said, Assistant Air Force Secretary for Energy, Installations, and Environment.

“The goal is to get back to the basics when it comes airpower for joint combat: speed, endurance, flexibility and range. But also, efficiency. “In the Indo-Pacific we use a bit more gas. We need more efficiency. The distances are a touch longer.” Chaudhary explained.

A blended-wing body aircraft can operate for longer distances and land on shorter runaways, making it more lethal and maneuverable for Air Mobility Command and the joint force, Miller said.

“It is the capability of being able to land someplace on a much shorter runway and pick up a casualty and fly them back to the care that they need. It is the capability of being able to get the same offload of fuel to a critical receiver when and where they need it, maybe from a greater distance because we’ve seen this in the past where the tanker fleets get pushed back so that the kinetic force can be pushed forward,” Miller said.

JetZero will receive $235 million over the next four years to build and test the prototype–with plans for a first flight in 2027.

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