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Pentagon Seeking Fuel-Efficient Aircraft Design

The Department of Defense (DoD) is seeking a blended wing body (BWB) aircraft concept that provides 30 percent greater aerodynamic efficiency than the Boeing 767 and Airbus A330.

The DoD expects the dual-use aircraft — utilizing “projected 2030 engine technology” — to provide a 60 percent reduction in “mission fuel burn” compared to present technology and enable “increased range, loiter time, and offload capabilities.” 

The prototype’s first flight is expected in 2026.

Future Air-Refueler Programs

The Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) solicitation doesn’t specify the intended role of the aircraft, but the Boeing 767 and Airbus A330 are the basis for the KC-46 and KC-30 Multi-Role Tanker Transport, according to Air Force Magazine.

Citing an Air Force Research Laboratory spokesperson, the outlet ruled out the aircraft for the KC-Y aerial refueling tanker modernization plan “but did not say whether it’s related to the KC-Z (plan).” 

Stealthy Air Tanker?

While the KC-Y plan envisages an upgrade on the current KC-46 and KC-135 refuelers, the KC-Z is a departure from the previous technology — likely to have a smaller frame and stealth features allowing it to accompany military aircraft into heavily-defended enemy airspace. 

Air Force Magazine added that the blended wing design is also likely to have a lower radar cross section than traditional aircraft.

The DIU solicitation comes weeks after the US Air Force issued a request for information for advanced aerial refueling systems, seeking “to increase the tanker fleet’s capabilities through integration of new technologies or adaptation of existing technologies on the KC-46 and KC-135.”

DoD Fuel Efficiency Plan

The BWB design fits into the 2018 National Defense Strategy and the 2022 NDS Fact Sheet calling for an improvement in military capability and readiness through expeditious “energy technology advancements and innovation.”

The Department of Defense’s emphasis on fuel-efficient aircraft is because the agency accounts for 77 percent of the federal government’s total fuel consumption, the majority of which is consumed by aircraft sorties.

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