NASA and Boeing have joined forces to create a new aircraft designed to offer eco-friendly flights.
Dubbed X-66A by the U.S. Air Force, the aircraft will be built by Boeing and will focus on achieving net-zero emissions from passenger aviation. The aircraft will be produced through the Sustainable Flight Demonstrator project and seeks to inform a potential new generation of more sustainable single-aisle aircraft. Working with NASA, Boeing will build, test, and fly a full-scale demonstrator aircraft with extra-long, thin wings stabilized by diagonal struts, known as a Transonic Truss-Braced Wing concept.
The Transonic Truss-Braced Wing concept involves an aircraft with extra-long, thin wings stabilized by diagonal struts.
“At NASA, our eyes are not just focused on stars but also fixated on the sky. The Sustainable Flight Demonstrator builds on NASA’s world-leading efforts in aeronautics, as well climate,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “The X-66A will help shape the future of aviation, a new era where aircrafts are greener, cleaner, and quieter, and create new possibilities for the flying public and American industry alike.”
The X-66A is the first X-plane specifically focused on helping the United States achieve the goal of net-zero aviation greenhouse gas emissions, which was articulated in the White House’s U.S. Aviation Climate Action Plan. The Sustainable Flight Demonstrator project is striving to help the United States achieve net-zero carbon emissions from aviation by 2050.
“To reach our goal of net zero aviation emissions by 2050, we need transformative aircraft concepts like the ones we’re flying on the X-66A,” said Bob Pearce, associate administrator for NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. “With this experimental aircraft, we’re aiming high to demonstrate the kinds of energy-saving, emissions-reducing technologies the aviation industry needs.”
Single-aisle aircrafts are used in many airline fleets—and due to their heavy usage, account for nearly half of the world’s aviation emissions. NASA plans to complete testing for the project by the late 2020s so that the technologies and designs demonstrated by the project can inform industry decisions about the next generation of single-aisle aircraft that could enter into service in the 2030s.
The partnership between NASA and Boeing launched in January 2023 when NASA issued an award to Boeing for their Sustainable Flight Demonstrator project. Through the project, they have built the Truss-Braced Wing concept, which they developed and flight tested together.
“Since the beginning, NASA has been with you when you fly. NASA has dared to go farther, faster, higher. And in doing so, NASA has made aviation more sustainable and dependable. It is in our DNA,” said Nelson. “It’s our goal that NASA’s partnership with Boeing to produce and test a full-scale demonstrator will help lead to future commercial airliners that are more fuel efficient, with benefits to the environment, the commercial aviation industry, and to passengers worldwide. If we are successful, we may see these technologies in planes that the public takes to the skies in the 2030s.”
The Air Force provided a designation for the X-66A that validates technologies for a Transonic Truss-Braced Wing configuration that, when combined with other advancements in propulsion technology, materials, and systems architecture, could result in up to 30 percent less fuel consumption and reduced emissions when compared with today’s aircraft.
“We’re incredibly proud of this designation because it means that the X-66A will be the next in a long line of experimental aircraft used to validate breakthrough designs that have transformed aviation,” said Todd Citron, Boeing’s chief technology officer. “With the learnings gained from design, construction, and flight-testing, we’ll have an opportunity to shape the future of flight and contribute to the decarbonization of aerospace.”
NASA’s history with the X-plane designation dates back to the 1940s, when its predecessor agency, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), created an experimental aircraft program with the Air Force and the U.S. Navy. The X-66A is the latest in a long line of NASA X-planes—with support from the Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, NASA has been able to provide technical expertise and support for several additional X-planes.
The Sustainable Flight Demonstrator project is an activity under NASA’s Integrated Aviation Systems Program and a key component of the agency’s Sustainable Flight National Partnership, which focuses on developing new sustainable aviation technologies.
Through the project, NASA will be investing $425 million over seven years, while also contributing technical expertise and facilities towards eco-friendly aviation.