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X-48BWith all the green talk these days, you’d think that the development of a new airliner that could cut up to 30% of the emissions from our current fleet of planes would be a big story, right?  Well, this plane exists.  But there is surprisingly little talk about bringing it to your local airport.

The Boeing X-48 prototype is a project that’s deep in development and has the potential to bring about the next generation of air travel.  Its radical design is actually nothing all that new.  It’s called a blended wing body (BWB) design and it differs from the current “tube and wing” design in that the body and wings are essentially blended into a single frame.  Instead of having a tube, that’s basically dead weight, being carried through the air by a pair of wings and a couple jet engines, the passenger and cargo areas of the plane are actually incorporated within the wings and help to lift the plane.

It’s a design that allows for more passenger room, more cargo room, and shorter, smoother landings.  But wait, there’s more!  The current X-48 design places the engines on top of the plane where the tail typically resides in a traditional airliner.  This translates into a much quieter ride for both those aboard and those on the ground.

So, what’s the problem here?  Why is this plane only currently planned for cargo and military transport use?  If we have a plane that’s economically viable, one-third cleaner that current planes, and is already being test-flown by Boeing and NASA, why isn’t it already being introduced to the public conscience as the next mode of air travel?

Windows.

Because the concept of the “tube” is thrown out the window (excuse the pun) in this version of an airliner, the passenger hold is vastly different from the planes we’re used to.  The fuselage in the X-48 is very wide because it extends into, and is, in fact, part of, the wings.  This means that instead of the typical 3-3 or 2-3-2 seat configuration, the new setup is more along the lines of a movie theater.  Instead of every third or so seats having a window, there would be seats in the middle of the plane that may have 10 seats or more on either side before reaching a window.

Interestingly, the problem with this design has nothing to do with safety, but rather, public dislike.  When Boeing did initial research into the design, they got some pretty negative reactions from people that they surveyed.  People didn’t like being seated so far from windows and would strongly prefer to just leave things “as-is.” 

After getting this negative feedback, Boeing abandoned plans to build a passenger version of the plane and has refocused on cargo and military iterations.  This is a big mistake in my opinion.  Are we really prepared to abandon an idea that could cut billions of tons of carbon dioxide from our atmosphere and make our airports and surround areas quieter, for window seats?

When I fly, I’m interested in what’s happening out the window for approximately 60 seconds after takeoff, and then I’m trying to sleep.  Am I the only one who thinks that maybe this plan was abandoned too soon?  Would you fly on the X-48 or a similar plane?  Would you give up your window seat to help save the planet?

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