Rendering of the blended-wing body prototype aircraft.

Rendering of the blended-wing body prototype aircraft. Courtesy JetZero

Military hopes commercial airlines adopt new hybrid plane design

The head of U.S. Transportation Command says blended wing body designs could provide more efficient, especially if they can fly from existing airports.

Blended wing body aircraft could benefit the U.S. military by allowing warplanes to fly further, from shorter runways. But making sure the planes are compatible with existing airports is key to giving commercial airlines buy in, too, a top general said Monday.

Commercial airlines buying these new, radically different-looking planes would likely lower the cost for the military.

“How we get the most effectiveness [is if] we can get commercials to buy off on this kind of capability, which may be doable if you don't have to make new systems for it out there in the ... cargo systems that they've already invested in for being able to fly around the world,” Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, the head of U.S. Transportation Command, said Monday at the Air & Space Forces Association’s annual Air, Space & Cyber conference.

A blended wing body is a hybrid aircraft in which the fuselage acts as part of the wing. The Air Force last month awarded startup JetZero a contract to build a blended wing body prototype that could fly as soon as 2027. The new aircraft design is expected to allow planes to fly longer distances from shorter runways.

“As an aeronautical engineer, I think that there is really a there there from an efficiency standpoint,” Van Ovost said. “If we can get … wings that fold up so that we don't have to make new airports and we can actually use them at more locations that'd be helpful.”

The JetZero blended wing body prototype will be powered by a Pratt & Whitney-geared turbofan engine that’s already used on different models of Airbus aircraft.

“When you’re talking about NGAS – Next Generation Air-Refueling System – we’re looking at what we’ve done in the past, as well as what commercial off-the-shelf engine can provide the level of thrust and power that’s needed,” Jill Albertelli, president of Pratt & Whitney military engines, said of the prototype at a Monday briefing.