Airbus has unveiled its “blended wing body” prototype, the basis of which could offer significant fuel savings versus existing technology and overhaul the onboard passenger experience.
The project, dubbed MAVERIC – Model Aircraft for Validation and Experimentation of Robust Innovative Controls – features a “disruptive aircraft” design which could become the benchmark standard for airliners of the future.
The European aerospace giant revealed it has already flown a sub-scale test demonstrator as part of its early research trials. The prototype is 6.6ft (2m) long and 10.5ft (3.2m) wide, offering a surface area of approximately 24.2sq ft (2.25m²). Although still in its formative stages, Airbus believes the design has the potential to reduce fuel consumption by up to 20% compared to current single-aisle examples. In addition, noise is expected to be “significantly reduced” due to a “shielded” engine mounted above the central body of the aircraft.
The Toulouse-based firm also suggests that its blended-wing body configuration could also offer new possibilities for propulsion systems type and integration, as well as increased versatility within the cabin for “a totally new on-board passenger experience”. This could result in larger aisles, increased legroom and potentially opens the door for a wholesale rethink of standard seating configurations.
Adrien Bérard, co-leader of the ten-person MAVERIC team noted: “Initially, many dismissed the MAVERIC project as merely a hobby or, in other words, a project Airbus wouldn’t learn very much from. So, we had to prove them wrong by showing that we could deliver a very sound basis for future aircraft configuration.”
Despite the announcement taking place at the 2020 Singapore Airshow, Airbus revealed it has been working on the MAVERIC programme since 2017. In less than three years, the concept has progressed from a simple sketch to a 3D computer-generated model and now to an aircraft demonstrator. This prototype first took to the skies above France in June last year. Since then the flight-test campaign has continued and is expected to conclude towards the end of Q2 2020.
Jean-Brice Dumont, executive vice president of engineering at Airbus added: “Although there is no specific timeline for entry-into-service, this technological demonstrator could be instrumental in bringing about change in commercial aircraft architectures for an environmentally sustainable future for the aviation industry.”
It is understood that a specific challenge for the research team was to assess the low-speed and stall dynamics of the new technology. Future testing is set to analyse aspects such as MAVERIC’s handling qualities, flight control, multi-objective control surfaces and modularity.
Through its AirbusUpNext research programme, the manufacturer said it is also currently working on several other demonstrator projects including hybrid-electric propulsion known as E-FAN X and fello’fly - v-shaped ‘formation’ flight, as well as wider investigations to unlock the potential of ATTOL (autonomous taxi take-off and landing).