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Jet Zero Set For Take-Off

Geoffrey Thomas - : Feb 22, 2024 - : 7:14 am

JetZero the California-based start-up has emerged as a major player with a replacement for the Boeing 767, 757 and A300 market with a blended wing body concept (BWB) called the Z-5 to capture the so-called middle of the market.

The concept, includes using the same baseline BWB configuration for an advanced tanker-transport for the U.S. Air Force in a multi-role demonstrator reminiscent of the Boeing 367-80 which in the 1950s led to the development of the 707 airliner and KC-135 tanker.

The BWB concept blends the airframe structure and aerodynamics to reduce weight and drag while enabling the fuselage to contribute to lift.

JetZero co-founder and CEO Tony O’Leary tells Asian Airlines and Aerospace that “climate is a great concern and the industry has huge issues with fuel burn and razor-thin margins. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many issues to address and we are fundamentally, not getting a better solution.”

Mr O’Leary says the JetZero Z-5 airframe solves all those problems. “It’s simple and straightforward when we have hardly changed the configuration since the 707 with the propulsion side delivering the gains. Now we make this change in the shape because the planet demands it and the airlines demand it, we go to 50% lower fuel burn and emissions. It’s physics – lift, weight, drag and thrust.”

He rightly explains that the engine gains while very impressive over the decades have become complex as the industry strives to get to the holy grail of net zero. O’Leary says another huge plus for the JetZero design is that it will use existing proven technology.

Driving the game changing project JetZero won U.S. Air Force backing last August to build a demonstrator for the Z-5 with projected 50% cut in fuel consumption to open the doors of the airline industry as well the Pentagon.

The U.S. Air Force $235 million will involve JetZero’s partner Northrop Grumman which taps Northrop’s pedigree in flying-wing stealth bombers.

The U.S. Air Force has stated that the BWB “is one of the single most impactful technology opportunities for future U.S. Air Force aircraft, both in terms of capability improvement and greenhouse gas emissions reduction.”

The demonstrator will be powered by Pratt & Whitney’s Geared Turbofan.

Also known as a hybrid wing body, JetZero configuration is tailless and more efficient than a conventional tube-and-wing design because of its reduced wetted area, friction drag and lower form drag. BWBs are also inherently quieter than current airliners because the airframe shields most of the noise from engines mounted on the upper surface.

JetZero’s Z-5 design, the first in a proposed family of Z-series aircraft, is optimized for a range of at least 5,000 nm and up to 250 passengers. The all-composite aircraft has a wide single deck and high-aspect-ratio wing. Although this extends the wingspan to close to 200 ft., similar to an Airbus A330, the body length is shorter than a Boeing 767. Despite the overall size, JetZero says the midmarket aircraft will be about half the weight and require half the power of aircraft it replaces, such as the 767.

From a passenger perspective the Z-5 will have four aisles with seats set as doubles. Each modular zone will be in a 2-2 configuration with abundant overhead storage space. O’Leary says the configuration options are endless and offer airlines and entirely new passenger pleasing palette. “Boarding will be a dream.”

Aimed at entry into service in the 2030s, the reduced weight and power requirements are designed to enable the Z-5 to use derivatives of existing single-aisle engines such as the CFM Leap 1 or Pratt & Whitney PW1100G. The aircraft is equipped with mostly conventional systems, simplifying development and reducing cost and risk.

The plan is founded on several design breakthroughs which differentiate JetZero’s proposed BWB from many previous blended wing concepts. One of these is a pivoting nose gear which increases body angle for take-off – thereby solving many of the pitch control and rotation challenges that hampered earlier designs.

For the take-off, the nose gear extends by several feet to increase the angle of attack by about 6 deg., allowing the BWB’s body to produce lift to amplify the effect of the aircraft’s elevons. The design enables the Z-5 to reach pitch attitude faster which in turn allows liftoff speed to be lower and reduces the demand for high take-off thrust. And another bonus is that it eliminates the requirement for leading-edge high-lift slats and reduces the size of the trailing-edge flaps.

Countering another design challenge leveled at BWBs concerning the inefficiencies of pressurizing a noncircular cabin cross-section, JetZero says advances in composites for primary structures, added to the single-deck configuration of the Z-5, eliminate the problem of constructing pressure vessels in a flattened fuselage shape. While the initial design is based around conventional tanks for sustainable aviation fuel, the company says the BWB configuration provides ample internal volume for liquid-hydrogen fuel tanks in the future.

JetZero is aiming for its first flight in 2027.

NASA and Boeing flew an 8.5%-scale BWB demonstrator in 2007, known as the X-48B but Boeing, incredibly, has walked away from the concept.

O’Leary says private investors will also contribute funds to the development project.

JetZero co-founder and chief technology officer Mark Page is part of a team that includes Bob Liebeck and Blaine Rawdon who invented the concept.

The Z-5 tanker also fits into the USAF’s push to have stealthy aircraft to penetrate enemy airspace.

Summing up Barry Eccleston, former Airbus Americas and International Aero Engines CEO and a member of JetZero’s advisory board told Aviation Week’s Guy Norris last year: “You have all these tailwinds from the environment, the Air Force and NASA, plus you have the technology tailwind, which makes it viable when it wasn’t before. Then you set that against the fact that Boeing and Airbus are doing nothing new in this space and you say, ‘We can’t sit here and do nothing.’ The industry deserves it, and the industry needs it. If you’ve got something you know will be 30-50% better than today’s products, why would you not do it?”

NOTE: Some elements of this article are taken from the soon-to-be-available Greening Wings by Guy Norris and Geoffrey Thomas


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