JetZero announced it has received a $235 million grant from the U.S. Air Force to build a full-scale demonstrator of its blended wing-body aircraft. The X-BWB-1 could take its first flight in 2027. The California startup and Department of Defense’s Innovation Unit held a joint press conference last week.
A blended-wing jet has no definite fuselage, instead blending the wing and fuselage into one construction to reduce fuel consumption and extend its range. “It offers 50 percent lower fuel burn using today’s engines and the airframe efficiency needed to support a transition to zero carbon emissions propulsion in the future,” said CEO Tom O’Leary in a statement. “No other proposed aircraft comes close in terms of efficiency.”
Several top Air Force officials made the announcement with O’Leary. “We are in a race for a technological superiority with what we call a pacing challenge, a formidable opponent,” said Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, referring to China.
“All of you have recognized that we have entered a new era of great power competition in which China has come to be known as our pacing challenge, but honestly, I ain’t having it,” added assistant secretary Ravi I Chaudhary, whose department is overseeing the new aircraft. “Today, we are going to set the pace by doing what we have always done. Design, build, and fly with blended wing technology.”
The X-BWB-1 would provide logistical support for the Air Force’s “Agile Combat Employment,” a strategy that would allow the U.S. military to base its ships and planes at scattered, remote locations across the Pacific in an effort to avoid China’s long-range weapons. “Operational energy will be the margin of victory in a near peer conflict in the Indo-Pacific,” said Chaudhary, referring to the blended-wing technology’s lower fuel burn. The X-BWB-1 also has a longer range, with shorter takeoff and landing capabilities.
JetZero is collaborating with Northrop Grumman and Scaled Composites to build and test the demonstrator. The company has selected Pratt & Whitney to use its GTF engines, which will make the blended-wing aircraft easier to integrate into commercial fleets. Cirium, an aviation analytics firm, estimates that air traffic will grow at a projected rate of 3.6 percent annually. The global airline fleet is projected to almost double to 47,700 aircraft by 2041, making decarbonization more challenging.
JetZero’s Jetliner version will be designed for the commercial market, creating a niche between single-aisle jets and wide-bodied aircraft. It will be able to fit into existing airport infrastructures. “Our new airframe meets both the climate challenge and the demands of an underserved mid-market segment,” said O’Leary recently. The Jetliner, he added, will also be ready to run with zero-emissions propulsion like hydrogen fuel cells when that technology becomes available.