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Originally published July 25, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 25, 2007 at 8:57 AM

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Boeing's futuristic plane passes its first flight test

Boeing completed the first test flight Friday of its latest blended-wing-body research aircraft, designated the X-48B. The unmanned test vehicle...

Seattle Times aerospace reporter

Boeing completed the first test flight Friday of its latest blended-wing-body research aircraft, designated the X-48B.

The unmanned test vehicle represents a possible future aircraft that replaces the traditional tube-and-wing design with a shape resembling a manta ray — essentially a flying wing.

The prototype, which has a 21-foot wingspan and weighs 500 pounds, flew for a half-hour at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif, climbing to an altitude of 7,500 feet.

Thanks to greater aerodynamic efficiency, a blended-wing-body design could be built much bigger than current planes and carry more passengers or cargo.

For commercial applications, a big drawback is that most passengers in the cavernous interior would be far from windows. But Boeing is first looking at such applications as military cargo.

George Muellner, president of the Advanced Systems unit in Boeing's defense division, said at the Paris Air Show last month that, with continued government funding, a blended-wing-body military-cargo plane could be in use sometime between 2015 and 2020.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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