Boeing and NASA Are Building This Eco-Friendlier ‘X-Plane’ with American and Southwest Airlines Support

NASA's first X-plane could reduce fuel consumption and emissions up to 30% compared to today's domestic fleet of airplanes, Boeing said. The design could be used by planes of different sizes and missions and may benefit from folding wing tips to accommodate existing airport infrastructure.

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines and Fort Worth-based American are among five U.S. airlines collaborating with Boeing and NASA to advise the Sustainable Flight Demonstrator project and development of the X-66A research aircraft.

Other airlines included in the coalition are Alaska Airlines, Delta, and United. The airlines will provide input on operational efficiencies, maintenance, handling characteristics, and airport compatibility, Boeing said.

“Hearing directly from the operators during all phases of the Sustainable Flight Demonstrator project will help us understand exact requirements and tradeoffs,” Todd Citron, Boeing chief technology officer, said in a statement. “The airlines’ feedback will significantly contribute to the X-66A project learnings while furthering aviation sustainability.”

A step toward net-zero aviation with NASA’s first X-plane

Boeing said that the X-66A will test the Transonic Truss-Braced Wing airframe configuration, built from a modified MD-90 aircraft, at a Boeing facility in Palmdale, California.

It’s NASA’s first X-plane focused on helping achieve its goal of net-zero aviation greenhouse gas emissions, the company said.

According to Boeing, when combined with any advancements in propulsion systems, materials, and systems architecture, a single-aisle airplane with a TTBW configuration could reduce fuel consumption and emissions up to 30% compared to today’s domestic fleet of airplanes.

NASA and Boeing showcased the X-66A design’s new livery earlier this month at one of aviation’s largest gatherings, EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Seeking feedback from the airlines

According to Boeing, here’s what American, Southwest, and the other U.S. airlines will offer in feedback throughout the project:

Design: Airline participants will share feedback on sustainable operations and airport compatibility. While the X-66A will have a wingspan of 145 feet, the TTBW design could be used by airplanes of different sizes and missions and may benefit from folding wing tips to accommodate existing airport infrastructure.

Simulation and lab testing: Airline pilots will have a chance to experience the X-66A through a flight simulator and assess the vehicle’s handling characteristics.

Flight testing: Airline operations and maintenance teams will assess the X-66A as modifications are made to the airplane. Flight testing is slated for 2028 and 2029 out of NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base.

North Texas connections

As a leading global aerospace company, Boeing develops, manufactures, and services commercial airplanes, defense products, and space systems for customers in more than 150 countries. Headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, Boeing has its Global Services business in Plano.

American Airlines is the nation’s largest airline based on passenger miles flown, while Southwest Airlines ranks fourth in that category.

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