The X-48B is the latest experimental X-Plane and is a joint venture between NASA, US Air Force Research Laboratory and The Boeing Company. The vehicle was on view at a recent open day at the NASA Dryden Flight Research Centre at Edwards Air Force Base, USA.

The X-48B is an unmanned airborne scale model BWB (Blended Wing Body) prototype aircraft. The BWB design has the efficiency of a flying wing which has proved to be fuel-efficient at high altitude speeds. The vehicle was built to validate the structural, aerodynamic and operational advantages of the BWB concept which could allow increased carrying capacity, reduced fuel burn and possibly noise reduction.

Flight characteristics have been scaled to extrapolate full-scale dynamic behaviour in order to learn more about the BWB’s low speed flight control characteristics, particularly during take-off and landing. The vehicles are 8.5% scale models with a wingspan of 6.4 metres and maximum take off mass of 230kgs.

After years of work, the X-48B’s maiden flight was in July 2007. After 80 flights, the Boeing X-48B is demonstrating that the BWB can be designed to overcome the challenges of low speed flight.

These prototype vehicles were built by Cranfield Aerospace, who provided two complete unmanned airborne vehicles and a ground control station to Boeing in accordance with requirements and specifications supplied by Boeing Research & Technology, Boeing’s advanced R&D unit.

Cobham Antenna Systems, Microwave Antennas supplied blade antennas to Cranfield Aerospace for use on the X-48B prototypes. The antennas cover different frequency bands and are part of the telecommand, telemetry, video and audio systems. These antennas met the specification in that the antennas should not affect aerodynamics, and would function whilst the experimental aircraft was being trialed in flight.

The three models of blade antenna supplied have omni-directional coverage, each weigh less than 20 grams, are robust and measure 105x30mm (4.1×1.2 inches) and are 2.4mm (0.09inches) thin.

It was critical to have optimized signal reception at a fixed ground location, irrespective of the aircraft’s location and orientation. The attributes of Cobham Antenna Systems, Microwave Antennas blade antennas are proven having been used on other demanding applications including UAVs, World Rally Championship and Grand Prix race cars.