Lockheed Martin's Hybrid Wing Body (HWB) airlifter will fly sometime this year-or at least a four percent scale model of the aircraft will fly. The model has completed testing in a low-speed wind tunnel and is ready to be refurbished and flown for real.
Aerospace companies use low-speed wind tunnels-such as Lockheed's in Marietta, Georgia-to test models of the aircraft they are designing. Lockheed's 45-pound HWB model has a wingspan of 10-feet, and is capable of flying using 10-pound thrusters that are essentially ducted fans.
The model's thrusters are not exactly to scale for the large-diameter turbofan engines that are planned for the full-sized aircraft, but the propulsion produced is the same.
The HWB is an appealing design, blending the wings into the body of the aircraft to make room for larger-than-normal engines and achieve high fuel efficiency. If it goes into production, it could ultimately replace large cargo aircraft used by the military.
Design models and the wind tunnel testing suggest that the HWB could carry as much as the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy, the biggest cargo plane used by the U.S. military (payload capacity 240,000 pounds), and burn 70% less fuel than the Boeing C-17 Globemaster, the most commonly used military cargo plane.
Rick Hooker, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works program manager for the HWB project, told Aviation Weekly that the model aircraft will be flown remotely "sometime this year."
Unlike flying-wing aircraft such as the B-2 Stealth Bomber, the HWB does not rely on any advanced control effectors, such as thrust vectoring, to maintain stability. In other words, it's designed to fly just like a normal plane. "It flies just like a tube-and-wing aircraft, using aileron, elevator and rudder," Hooker told Aviation Weekly.
In addition to the low-speed tests that were conducted on the model that will fly, Lockheed has also tested a heavy metal half-span model of the aircraft designed to withstand transonic speeds in the National Transonic Facility at NASA Langley Research Center.
If all goes smoothly during the model flight tests later this year, then we just might see Lockheed lay out some plans for the development of a full-sized airlifter.
(Jay Bennett - Popular Mechanics / Aviation Weekly)