Maveric - Blended Wing

Maveric, Manta Ray of the Skies – the Potential of Blended Wing Bodies

Reiner Hertl
20.04.2020
4 pictures
5 minutes

An aerodynamically shaped body, with its shape flowing into the wings. Time and again, this different principle of flying is lifted into the aviation headlines. After all, increased lift around the body itself is the critical aspect of the blended wing body (BWB). This also reduces the CO₂ footprint coming from the skies. Let us take off and reflect upon the initial BWB visions and latest concepts such as the Maveric.

Innovative – even if the idea is not novel

The current, futuristic Airbus blended wing body called ‘Maveric’ stands for ‘Model aircraft for validation and experimentation of robust innovative controls’. With a length of 2 metres, more than 3 metres wingspan and 2.25 square metres wing surface, the remote-controlled demonstrator became airborne at this year’s Singapore Airshow. Its test flights, which commenced in 2019, are due to continue until July 2020. The aerodynamic wind tunnel tests were carried out at the Airbus site in Filton. According to Airbus, the focus placed on ‘low speed and stall dynamics’ presented a particular challenge. In this vein, here are some images from Airbus’ YouTube channel and a quotation from the Maveric presentation in Asia:

Although there is no specific time line 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.

Jean-Brice Dumont, Executive Vice President of Engineering at Airbus

In other words, could Maveric literally shape the next generation of aircraft? Could this blended wing body concept even be up to the role of a new ‘type’ model for the A320 class narrow body jets (Airbus has long since been looking for a successor to this sales hit)?

These are question marks that may appear all the more larger at the moment due to the unpredictability of the Corona pandemic and the severe consequences resulting from such. Airbus, as a corporation driving forward innovation with strong focus on research, has bolstered its liquidity and balance sheets to the tune of 15 billion euros. The corporate press release at the end of March outlined the new line of credit to this end. Airbus says that it wants ‘to be able to work efficiently’ again when the circumstances improve. However, will Airbus work on Maveric too? It remains to be seen whether it is going to be built, and if so, when and where.

Let us return to the BWB topics. To delve further into the subject matter, it is time to review the BWB forerunners. It is almost enough to make you feel nostalgic. This is because the idea of this special shape – a hybrid of standard aeroplane and flying wing – has been pursued continuously since the early 20th century. Aviation pioneers were at the drawing board, lateral thinkers.

First passengers in the wing and BWB belly landings

One of the earliest examples of an aircraft built according to a BWB principle enjoyed its maiden flight in 1929: the Junkers G 38. Only two aircraft of such were constructed, based on the patent for the ‘thick wing’. This is precisely where the passengers sat too: six on each wing.

In the legendary patent document no. 253788, which became known as ‘Junkers Single Wing Patent’, the aviation pioneer filed for the following in 1910: a ‘glider to accommodate hollow bodies serving parts not generating lift’. Experts, however, disagree about whether Junkers’ patent in fact describes a ‘single wing’. The guiding principle here was clear: to shift all aeroplane parts causing resistance into the thick wings with hollow bodies. The G 38 by all accounts was not able to establish itself on the whole – despite breaking two world records upon its licensing flight – and was discontinued.

This was also the fate of the similar Dreadnought from Westland Aircraft Works, unveiled in 1924. This aircraft also boasted thick wings that flowed directly into the aircraft body. Its maiden flight ended in an accident.

There were early examples of a BWB concept. Variants on the blended wing body have been brought back time and again. This has particularly revolved around endeavours to achieve greater aerodynamics than the conventional pipe and wing concept. In other words, as compared to the elongated pipe with protruding wings. Even if the body and wings flow into one another on the BWB concept, they can still be told apart. This is not the case for the single wing. However, both types are regularly also discussed as game changers: setting new rules, heralding a paradigm shift.

The Boeing X-48 experimental aircraft and the central body-free Flying V

Boeing and NASA are carrying out research on a modern protagonist, the X-48. Many aviation enthusiasts may still remember how the X-48B and X-48C (still on a small scale) created significant headlines ten years ago. Passengers were due to be transported on the inside in the body, with freight transported outside in the wings. This set-up can be traced back to a fundamental problem of BWB: the further away the passengers would sit from the aircraft’s longitudinal axis in the wing, the more they would experience air movements and flight manoeuvres. The ‘Flying V’ also has to grapple with this requirement. (WingMag previously reported on this collaboration between TU Delft and KLM.) Airbus has already secured this patent together with the creator Justus Benad. The single wing’s mission is in essence the same as the blended wing body aircraft’s aim to save fuel: ultimately to reduce emissions.

Airbus’ Maveric – frugal and with much freedom for cabin design

At Airbus, we understand society expects more from us in terms of improving the environmental performance of our aircraft.

Adrien Bérad, Co-Director of the Maveric Project

The Maveric project came into being also with the objective of potentially consuming 20 per cent less fuel that current single-aisle aircraft with only one central aisle. A blended wing body design profits from its improved aerodynamics, lower wind resistance and the benefit that the flattened body design itself generates more lift. In this way, fuel consumption can be lowered too, not to mention with a possible reduction in noise pollution. Together with these central aspects, a wholly new approach has been applied to the cabin interior design. With this in mind, what could we expect on board the Maveric?

In all likelihood, there will not be any cabin windows (the cockpit windows for the pilot could be the sole remaining windows). However, the design envisages optional monitors in their place, allowing passengers to peer outside. This departure from traditional aeroplane architecture could also allow a wholly new passenger experience to arise in a versatile cabin. The blended wing body model allows even more attention to be paid to comfort. This includes everything from more legroom to wider aisles. Dumont did not want to be drawn in Singapore on a launch date for the MAVERIC. However, they did present images from the aircraft’s interior. Initial images from the cabin layout options and the further potential of this blended wing body.

Pictures © Airbus / Cover picture © AIRBUS S.A.S. 2020 – computer rendering by FIXION – photo by dreamstime.com – MMS – 2020

by Reiner Hertl

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