JetZero: Groundbreaking ‘blended-wing’ demonstrator plane cleared to fly

JetZero:開創性的“混合翼”試驗飛機獲準飛行

By Jacopo Prisco, CNN
Published 5:57 AM EDT, Thu April 4, 2024
CNN —
The basic design of commercial airplanes hasn’t changed much in the past 60 years. Modern airliners like the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350 have the same general shape as the Boeing 707 and the Douglas DC-8, which were built in the late 1950s and solidified the “tube and wing” form factor that is still in use today.
CNN —

在過去的60年里,商用飛機的基本設計沒有太大變化。像波音787和空客A350這樣的現代客機與波音707和道格拉斯DC-8有著相同的總體形狀,這兩款飛機建造于20世紀50年代末,鞏固了“管道和機翼”的形狀規格,至今仍在使用。

This is because commercial aviation prioritizes safety, favoring tried-and-tested solutions, and because other developments — in materials and engines, for example — mean the traditional design is still relevant.

這是因為商用航空優先考慮安全性,青睞經過試驗和測試的解決方案,而且因為其他方面的進展(不盡人意)——例如,材料和發動機——這意味著傳統設計依然適用。

However, a seismic shake-up is about to take place. An entirely new aircraft shape has been cleared to take off into California skies. At the end of last month, Long Beach-based JetZero announced that Pathfinder, its 1:8 scale “blended wing body” demonstrator plane, has been granted an FAA Airworthiness certificate and test flights are imminent.

然而,一場影響深遠性的變革即將發生。一架全新外形的飛機已經被獲準在加州上空起飛。上個月底,總部位于長灘的JetZero宣布,其1:8比例的“混合翼身”展示飛機探路者/開拓者(Pathfinder)已獲得美國聯邦航空局(FAA)適航證書,試飛即將開始。

As the industry desperately looks for ways to reduce carbon emissions, it faces a somewhat tougher challenge than other sectors precisely because its core technologies have proven so hard to move away from. It’s a ripe time to innovate.

隨著該行業拼命尋找減少碳排放的方法,它面臨著比其他行業更嚴峻的挑戰,正是因為它的核心技術已經被證明是如此的難以擺脫?,F在是去創新的成熟時機。

The “blended wing body” looks similar to the “flying wing” design used by military aircraft such as the iconic B-2 bomber, but the blended wing has more volume in the middle section. Both Boeing and Airbus are tinkering with the idea, and JetZero’s new milestone brings it a little closer to its ambitious goal of putting into service a blended wing aircraft as soon as 2030.

“混合翼身”看起來類似于軍用飛機(如標志性的B-2轟炸機)使用的“飛翼”設計,但混合翼在中間部分有著更大的體積。波音(Boeing)和空客(Airbus)兩者都在對這一想法進行著小修小補,而JetZero的新里程碑,令這家公司離最快在2030年投入使用混合機翼飛機的宏偉目標又邁近了一步。

“We feel very strongly about a path to zero emissions in big jets, and the blended wing airfrx can deliver 50% lower fuel burn and emissions,” Tom O’Leary, co-founder and CEO of JetZero, told CNN in August 2023. “That is a staggering leap forward in comparison to what the industry is used to.”

“我們非常希望大型噴氣式飛機實現零排放,而混合機翼機身可以實現將燃油消耗和排放降低50%?!?JetZero的聯合創始人兼首席執行官湯姆·奧利里(Tom O’Leary)在2023年8月接受CNN采訪時表示: “與該行業一直所做的相比,這是一個驚人的飛躍?!?/b>
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A rendering of JetZero's blended wing design. JetZero

一架JetZero的混合翼設計的效果圖

Under pressure
The blended wing concept is far from new, and the earliest attempts at building airplanes with this design date back to the late 1920s in Germany. American aircraft designer and industrialist Jack Northrop created a jet-powered flying wing design in 1947, which inspired the B-2 in the 1990s.

受到壓力
混合機翼的概念并不新鮮,用這種設計建造飛機的最早嘗試可以追溯到20世紀20年代末的德國。美國飛機設計師和實業家杰克·諾斯羅普(Jack Northrop)在1947年創造了一種噴氣動力飛翼設計,并在20世紀90年代影響了B-2。

As a sort of hybrid between a flying wing and a traditional “tube and wing,” the blended wing allows the entire aircraft to generate lift, minimizing drag. NASA says that this shape “helps to increase fuel economy and creates larger payload (cargo or passenger) areas in the center body portion of the aircraft.” The agency has tested it through one of its experimental planes, the X-48.

作為一種介于飛翼和傳統“管翼”之間的混合體,這種混合機翼可以讓整個飛機產生升力,最大限度地減少阻力。美國宇航局(NASA)表示,這種形狀“有助于提高燃油經濟性,并在飛機的中心部分創造更大的有效載荷(貨物或乘客)區域?!痹摍C構已經通過其中一款實驗飛機X-48,進行了測試。

Over about 120 test flights between 2007 and 2012, two unmanned, remote-controlled X-48s demonstrated the viability of the concept. “An aircraft of this type would have a wingspan slightly greater than a Boeing 747 and could operate from existing airport terminals,” the agency says, adding that the plane would also “weigh less, generate less noise and emissions, and cost less to operate than an equally advanced conventional transport aircraft.”

2007年至2012年間,兩架無人遙控x -48進行了大約120次以上的試飛,證明了這一概念的可行性。該機構表示:“這種類型的飛機翼展將略大于波音747,可以在現有的機場航站樓進行運營?!痹摍C構還表示,這種飛機“重量更輕,噪音和排放更少,運營成本也比同樣先進的傳統設計運輸機更低?!?/b>


NASA's experimental X-48 plane. NASA

美國宇航局的實驗飛機X-48

In 2020, Airbus built a small-blended wing demonstrator, about six feet in length, signaling interest in pursuing a full-size aircraft in the future. But if the shape is so effective, why haven’t we yet moved to building planes based on it?

2020年,空客建造了一架小型的混合機翼展示機,長度約為6英尺,表現出未來有興趣研發全尺寸飛機。但如果這種形狀如此有效,為什么我們還沒有按照它來建造飛機呢?

According to O’Leary, there is one main technical challenge holding manufacturers back. “It’s the pressurization of a non-cylindrical fuselage,” he says, pointing to the fact that a tube-shaped plane is better able to handle the constant expansion and contraction cycles that come with each flight.

據奧利里所說,有一個主要的技術挑戰阻擋了制造者?!熬褪欠菆A柱形機身的增壓/加壓問題,”他說著,并指出一個事實,即管狀的飛機能夠更好地處理每次飛行中的膨脹和收縮的循環周期問題。

“If you think about a ‘tube and wing,’ it separates the loads — you have the pressurization load on the tube, and the bending loads on the wings. But a blended wing essentially blends those together. Only now can we do that with composite materials that are both light and strong.”

“只要你想象一下‘管道和機翼’形狀,它可以分離負荷——你在管道上有加壓負荷,而機翼上有彎曲負荷。但混合翼實際上是將它們混合在一起。只有到了現在,我們才能用既輕又強的復合材料做到這一點?!?/b>

Such a radically new shape would make the interior of the plane look and feel wildly different to today’s widebody aircraft. “It’s just a much, much wider fuselage,” O’Leary says. “Your typical single-aisle plane has three by three seats, but this is a sort of a shorter, wider tube. You get the same amount of people, but you might have 15 or 20 rows across the cabin, depending upon how each particular airline will configure it.

這種徹底的新外形,將使飛機內部的視覺和感覺與如今的寬體飛機截然不同。 “(寬體飛機)它只是一個更寬的機身?!?奧利里說:“典型的單通道飛機是3X3聯席,但某種程度上這只是一種更短的寬管子。你有同樣數量的乘客,但整個機艙可能只能放15或20排,這取決于每個航空公司如何配置它。

“This just gives them a whole new palette with which to lay it out. I think it’s going to be amazing to see what their interpretation of this much broader space will be.”

“現在這給了他們一個全新的調色板來排列座位。我認為,在這個更廣闊的空間上看他們的繪畫表演將是一件令人高興的事?!?/b>
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JetZero hopes to have its plane in service by 2030. JetZero

JetZero希望它的飛機能在2030年投入使用。

Revolutionary potential
O’Leary says that the nearest equivalent in terms of size would be the Boeing 767 – a widebody, twin-engine plane introduced in the 1980s that typically carried around 210 passengers. It’s still produced as a cargo plane but was replaced by the Boeing 787 as a passenger aircraft. It also has a modern military variant, the KC-46, which the US Air Force uses for aerial refueling.

革命潛力
奧利里說,從尺寸上比較,最接近的飛機是波音767——一種上世紀80年代推出的寬體雙引擎飛機,通常載客量約為210人。它仍然作為貨機在生產,但新客機被波音787取代。它也有一種現代的軍用變種,KC- 46,美國空軍使用它執行空中加油。

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Similarly, JetZero wants to simultaneously develop three variants: a passenger plane with seating for 200-plus passengers, a cargo plane and a fuel tanker. The blended wing shape lends itself so well to the latter that last year the US Air Force awarded JetZero $235 million to develop a full-scale demonstrator and validate the performance of the blended wing concept. The military version of the plane is scheduled to lead the way and perhaps support the development of the commercial models.

與之相似,JetZero希望同時開發三種型號:可容納200多名乘客的客機、貨機和加油機?;旌蠙C翼的形狀非常適合末者,去年美國空軍給予JetZero 2.35億美元用于開發全尺寸試驗機并驗證混合機翼概念的性能。這架飛機的軍用版本會引領研究方向,或許還能支持商用機型的開發。

The newly FAA-approved Pathfinder, with its 23-foot wingspan, is a 12.5%-scale version of the full-scale demonstrator, which is expected to take flight by 2027. The plane is designed for 100% compatibility with Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) and to have the internal volume to accommodate zero-carbon emissions hydrogen.

最新獲得美國聯邦航空管理局(faa)批準的“探路者”(Pathfinder)飛機翼展23英尺,是全尺寸驗證機的12.5%版本,預計將于2027年首飛。這架飛機是為了100%兼容可持續航空燃料(SAF) 而設計,并有內部空間容納零碳排放的氫氣。

However, building an entirely new airplane from scratch is an enormous task, and JetZero’s targets sound ambitious, given that the full process of certification for even a variant of an existing aircraft can take years. One advantage JetZero has in this area is that the plane will initially borrow engines from today’s narrowbody aircraft, like the Boeing 737 — although the plan is to eventually move to completely emission-free propulsion powered by hydrogen, which would require new engines that haven’t yet been developed.

無論如何,從零開始建造一架全新的飛機是一項艱巨的任務,而JetZero的目標聽起來雄心勃勃,因為即使是現有飛機的一個改型,整個認證過程也可能需要數年時間。JetZero在這一領域的一個優勢是,該飛機最初將借用現在的窄體飛機的發動機,比如波音737——但是該計劃最終目標是轉向完全由零碳排放的氫來提供動力,這需要尚未開發的新引擎。

JetZero hasn’t announced any orders for its plane, but O’Leary told CNN last year that airlines are interested. “We’re talking to all the major airlines globally already, because they’re excited to hear about the efficiency gains.”

JetZero的飛機還沒有宣布接到訂單,但奧利里去年曾告訴CNN,航空公司都對此很感興趣?!拔覀冋谂c全球的主要航空公司磋商,因為當他們聽到飛機的提高效率時非常激動?!?/b>

It remains to be seen whether a 50% reduction in fuel use is actually possible. Both NASA and Airbus quoted a more modest 20% for their designs, while the US Air Force says a blended wing aircraft could “improve aerodynamic efficiency by at least 30% over current Air Force tanker and mobility aircraft.”

減少50%的燃料消耗是否真的有可能,還有待觀察。而美國國家航空航天局和空中客車公司都對他們的設計給出了更折中的20%,而美國空軍則表示,混合翼飛機可以“比目前的空軍加油機和高機動飛機提高至少30%的空氣動力學效率”。

What the full-size JetZero plane could look like. JetZero

全尺寸的JetZero飛機會是什么樣子。

“It’s important to note that while a blended wing body can reduce drag and increase fuel efficiency, the actual benefits depend on the specific design, configuration, and operational conditions,” says Bailey Miles, an aviation analyst at consulting firm AviationValues.

咨詢公司AviationValues的航空分析師貝利·邁爾斯(Bailey Miles)表示:“值得注意的是,雖然混合翼體可以減少阻力,提高燃油效率,但實際效益取決于具體的設計、配置和操作條件?!?/b>

“Extensive aerodynamic testing and optimization are essential to fully realize the drag reduction potential of this innovative aircraft design. It would be hard to determine a specific percentage fuel reduction without the necessary tests,” he adds.

他補充道:“大量的空氣動力學測試和優化,對于實現這種創新的飛機所設計的減阻潛力必不可少。如果沒有必需的測試,很難確定具體的燃料減少百分比,”

According to ?Miles, the blended wing design is a “revolutionary” idea that has potential, but it comes with a number of hurdles, specifically an increased aerodynamic complexity that can make design and testing tricky, a series of regulatory and certification challenges, and a shape that may not be suitable for existing airport infrastructure.

據邁爾斯表示,混合機翼設計是一個具有潛力的“革命性”想法,但它也面臨許多障礙,特別是空氣動力學復雜性的增加,可能使設計與測試變得棘手,面臨一系列監管和認證挑戰,以及飛機形狀可能不適合現有的機場基礎設施的問題。

“The blended wing body aircraft holds immense promise as a game changer in the aviation industry, offering the potential for improved fuel efficiency, enhanced payload capacity, and innovative control systems. However, addressing the aerodynamic complexities, ensuring structural integrity, navigating regulatory hurdles, and adapting airport infrastructure are formidable challenges that must be overcome for it to become a reality,” he says, adding that these challenges, among others, make JetZero’s target of 2030 for entry into service “inconceivable.”

“混合翼身飛機作為航空業的游戲規則改變者有著巨大的可能,提供了增強燃油效率,增強有效載荷能力和創新控制系統的潛力。然而,相比這款飛機成為現實,解決空氣動力學的復雜性,確保結構完整性,克服監管障礙,適應機場的基礎設施才是必須克服的艱巨挑戰?!彼f道,加上這些挑戰,包括其他的挑戰在內,使得JetZero的2030年投入使用的目標變得“難以置信”。

According to Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst at consulting firm Aerodynamic Advisory, while not all of JetZero’s claims can be verified, “the idea of a blended wing body has been quite appealing for years, and it sounds like they’ve done some very interesting research. My colleagues and I regard it as quite promising.”

咨詢公司氣動咨詢公司(Aerodynamic Advisory)的航空分析師理查德·阿布拉菲亞(Richard Aboulafia)表示,雖然JetZero的說法并非都能得到證實,但“混合翼身的想法多年來一直很有吸引力,聽起來他們已經做了一些非常有趣的研究。我和我的同事都認為這很有前途?!?/b>

He is concerned that the firm is mostly “a design shop” at the moment, but he believes that the project may take off with the help of contractors. “There’s certainly room for somebody who actually wants to add value in this industry,” he says.

他擔心該公司現階段多半是一家“設計店”,但他相信,在承包商的幫助下,該項目可能會成功。他表示:“對于真正想要在這個行業里增加價值的人來說,無疑有足夠的空間?!?br />