|"The Saga of the Lifting Body"
by Ed Cantilli
They've been called everything from "flying wings" to "blended
bodies"; everything from "visionary designs" to "flying
flops." However, regardless of worldwide pronouncements from major
airframe manufacturers about their most advanced lifting-body, flying-wing
designs, the concept can be called everything but new.
The concept can also be called anything but controversy free.
Recent announcements have heralded variations on a unique and promising
aircraft design, most recently characterized as the "blended-wing"
or "blended-wing-body." In their most modern incarnation, these
beautiful, futuristic designs share highly swept wings that blend into
a relatively thick but airfoil-shaped fuselage that contributes lift. Blended-wing
designs distribute the job of lifting the airplane across the entire top
surface of the aircraft. There is no distinct fuselage per se.
In 1991, Airbus Industrie of Europe announced it was considering a "flying-wing"
aircraft capable of carrying 700 passengers--one and a half times as
many as the current biggest airliner, the Boeing 747-400. It was described
as having "fuselage, wings, engines and tail blended into one single
structure." Earlier, in 1989, Airbus had announced it was studying
a family of "integrated aircraft which enclose their payloads within
the minimum structural envelope." Besides offering more efficient
use of airport ramp space, the design promised "a breakthrough in
terms of weight, fuel efficiency, and manufacturing cost."