The X-66A: NASA’s lean green flying machine? (science news)

NASA, in collaboration with Boeing, has announced its latest foray into sustainable air travel, promising to be as revolutionary as bringing fish to a sushi restaurant. Enter the X-66A, the next “X-plane” geared towards net-zero aviation greenhouse gas emissions. Yes, fellow SFcrowsnest readers, this is the hybrid Prius of the skies, but with much more legroom and hopefully fewer unscheduled landings.

Now, for the uninitiated, ‘X-planes’ are not the off-brand versions of Marvel’s X-Men, as disappointingly, they lack both the mutant powers and the funky spandex. Instead, they are a series of experimental aircraft used to test and validate pioneering designs and technologies in aviation. And the X-66A is the latest ‘kid on the block,’ proudly wearing its ‘X’ badge.

The X-66A is essentially an MD-90 aircraft that’s undergone the ultimate home makeover: aircraft edition. It’s like the ship of Theseus, but for airplanes. The fuselage has been shortened, the wings swapped out for something sleeker and longer, and the engines replaced. Picture a stick insect on steroids, wearing a pair of jet boots, and you’ve got a rough idea of the aesthetic we’re dealing with here.

To ensure this flying twig doesn’t snap mid-flight, the X-66A comes equipped with aerodynamic trusses – a fancy term for ‘supportive struts’ that lend stability to the aircraft’s wings. This design, fittingly named ‘Transonic Truss-Braced Wing’ by Boeing, is hoping to reduce fuel consumption and emissions by a whopping 30%. It’s essentially the physical embodiment of “work smarter, not harder.”

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson puts it best, “At NASA, our eyes are not just focused on stars but also fixated on the sky.” Which, frankly, is good news, considering they’re about to launch a multi-million dollar aircraft into it.

Given that single-aisle aircraft are responsible for nearly half of worldwide aviation emissions, the X-66A is an attempt at a more sustainable design. By NASA’s calculations, achieving their goal of net-zero aviation emissions by 2050 will be a cinch. Although, it’s worth noting that their last big math problem involved getting people to the moon and back, so we’re hopeful they’ve got their sums right.

NASA and Boeing’s sustainable love-child, the X-66A, carries with it a price tag of $1.15 billion. While the faint-hearted may gasp, fear not. The cost, just like any awkward family dinner, is shared – NASA chips in $425 million, while Boeing and its partners foot the rest of the bill.

With a target as ambitious as net-zero emissions, the X-66A will have to be more than just a paper plane dream. But if anyone can make this skyward dream a reality, it’s the same group of folks who looked at the moon one day and thought, “Yep, we can stick a flag on that.” Buckle up, everyone. The era of greener, cleaner, quieter skies is on the horizon, courtesy of NASA’s latest lean green flying machine, the X-66A.

The X-66A: NASA's lean green flying machine? (science news)
The X-66A: NASA’s lean green flying machine? (science news)


Colonel Frog is a long time science fiction and fantasy fan. He loves reading novels in the field, and he also enjoys watching movies (as well as reading lots of other genre books).

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