Aug 302012

NASA has just signed a small ($100 K) study contract for a “ninja star” shaped jetliner. It would be a pointy cruciform in plan view; at low speed the longer axis would be the wing and at high speed the shorter axis would be the wing. To accomplish this, the jet engines would need to rotate 90 degrees.

Supersonic Flying Wing Nabs $100,000 from NASA

This is not an entirely new idea. In the 1970’s Boeing studied a similar concept… supersonic aircraft with single-pivot  rotating wings that would present long wings for low speed and short wing for high speed.

And it goes back even further. in 1963, former German aircraft designer Richard Vogt filed a patent via Boeing for a “TWO POSITION VARIABLE SHAPED WING” based on the same idea. The patent drawings seem to show a supersonic transport.

 Posted by at 6:40 pm
  • MrDakka

    Seating will probably be a nightmare.

    • Anonymous

      The only way to get around having people seated sideways for the high speed portion of the flight (safety concerns would mandate normal seat for takeoff & landing) would be to have seats that rotate. Bleah.

  • I’m not an aerospace engineer, but the idea of rotating an aircraft in flight at near-hypersonic speeds gives me the heebie-jeebies. What kind of turbulence effects would such a maneuver entail?

    • Anonymous

      Rotation would have to occur at relatively low speed, right after takeoff and right before landing.

      • Then what would be the point? I thought the different configurations were optimized for different velocities, and thus the hypersonic configuration would be very inefficient at low speeds.

        But then I’m still not an engineer, so my intuition is quite probably wrong.

        • Anonymous

          > thus the hypersonic configuration would be very inefficient at low speeds.

          Indeed. That’s why it would turn 90 degrees. Instead of a long and sleek lifting body with stubby wings, it would turn into a very efficient, but terribly subsonic, long-span high aspect ratio flying wing.

          Theoretically, anyway.

  • Beausabre

    Wow. OK, the problems I see:
    1. All your connections to the engines – fuel, control, hydraulics, electrical power, sensors, etc – now need to run through slip rings or something.
    2. You need two sets of control surfaces, one for each orientation.
    3. Yeah, seating. In one configuration or another, the pilots are now seated off the center axis and are effectively in one wingtip or another. Which means they can’t see to one side of the aircraft. That has to be a show-stopper for the FAA.

    The Boeing configurations avoid problems 1 & 3, at least.

  • John Nowak

    Seating is a problem. I could see the “throwing star” configuration working for a drone, though.