NASA and Boeing have announced that an experimental aircraft designated as the X-66A is the newest X-plane—a virtual plane produced through NASA’s Sustainable Flight Demonstrator project that will model changes to existing aircraft to reduce aviation emissions.
Experimental aircraft have been used by NASA since the 1940s to support research into new technologies or concepts, unmanned test missiles, and prototypes. The X-66A, which will modify an MD-90 aircraft with a shortened fuselage and extra-long, thin wings, is specifically focused on supporting the U.S. Aviation Climate Action Plan—specifically, net-zero aviation greenhouse gas emissions. The MD-90—and thus, the X-66A—is a single-aisle aircraft, which accounts for nearly half of worldwide aviation emissions. As such, more sustainable version of this aircraft could have a significant impact on emissions.
“To reach our goal of net zero aviation emissions by 2050, we need transformative aircraft concepts like the ones we’re flying on the X-66A,” said Bob Pearce, associate administrator for NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate. “With this experimental aircraft, we’re aiming high to demonstrate the kinds of energy-saving, emissions-reducing technologies the aviation industry needs.”
One potential improvement that the X-66A seeks to offer is reduced fuel consumption. The X-plane’s unique wing configuration, combined with modifications to propulsion systems, materials, and systems architecture, may result in up to 30% less fuel consumption than currently operating aircraft. The standards community has produced numerous documents that guide aviation fuels—both in their composition, and in the measurement of their use. They include:
X-planes—a designation conferred by the Air Force for development programs that seek to create revolutionary experimental aircraft configurations—are not the only use of flight modeling. AIAA R-154, Recommended Practice: When Flight Modeling is Used to Reduce Flight Testing Supporting Aircraft Certification, is a standard that outlines a set of recommended practices for an applicant to accomplish when flight modelling is being developed, proposed, and used to reduce flight testing relative to established aircraft certification practices. It was developed by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).
Beyond the aviation industry, guidelines for greenhouse gas emissions and other vital sustainability metrics are found in many national and international standards. ISO 14064, Greenhouse Gases, is a group of standards that provides guidance at the organization and project level for quantifying, monitoring, and reporting of greenhouse gas emission reductions or removal enhancements. These standards were developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Technical Committee (TC) 207, Environmental management, Subcommittee 7, Greenhouse gas and climate change management and related activities. The ANSI-accredited U.S. Technical Advisory Group (TAG) administrator to this TC and SC is the American Society for Quality (ASQ).
Learn more about the X-66A on nasa.gov: Next Generation Experimental Aircraft Becomes NASA’s Newest X-Plane