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This hybrid plane might be the secret to cleaner, quieter flying — Yes, it looks like a manta ray on purpose


Image Credit: NASA / Carla Thomas

The manta ray-like shape of the X-48C Hybrid Wing Body aircraft is obvious in this underside view as it flies over Edwards Air Force Base on a test flight on Feb. 28, 2013.


Image Credit: NASA / Carla Thomas

The NASA-Boeing X-48C Hybrid/Blended Wing Body research aircraft banks left during one of its final test flights over Edwards Air Force Base from NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center on Feb. 28, 2013.

x-48 project

Image Credit: NASA / Carla Thomas

X-48 Project completes flight research: In this image, the aircraft flies over the intersection of several runways adjacent to the compass rose on Rogers Dry Lake at Edwards Air Force Base during one of the sub-scale aircraft's final test flights on Feb. 28, 2013.

An airplane shaped like a manta ray has been tested in California as a concept craft for "cleaner and quieter commercial air travel," according to NASA.

Eight months of flight research on the "X-48 Project" was completed on April 9 as part of NASA's "Environmentally Responsible Aviation Project." The space agency has been demonstrating its hybrid, blended wing-body technology with the remotely piloted "X-48C."

The scale-model aircraft, shaped like a manta ray, was designed by The Boeing Co., built by Cranfield Aerospace Limited of the United Kingdom, and flown in partnership with NASA.

The X-48 is designed with no tail, a flattened fuselage and engines mounted on the top. The concept stems from studies for commercial planes that could be flying sky high in the next 20 years. A number of modifications took place between the B and C versions of the aircraft. 

Says NASA:

  • The X-48C retained most dimensions of the B model, with a wingspan slightly longer than 20 feet and a weight of about 500 pounds.
  • Primary changes to the X-48C model from the B model, which flew 92 flights at Dryden between 2007 and 2010, were geared to transforming it to an airframe noise-shielding configuration.
  • External modifications included relocating the wingtip winglets inboard next to the engines, effectively turning them into twin tails.
  • The rear deck of the aircraft was extended about two feet.
  • Finally, the project team replaced the X-48B's three 50-pound thrust jet engines with two 89-pound thrust engines.
  • The aircraft had an estimated top speed of about 140 mph and a maximum altitude of 10,000 feet.
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