JetZero embarks on the long journey to a blended wing airliner

Facing an environment existentially inhospitable to new aspirants, but with a big Air Force award and Northrop Grumman at its side, can JetZero survive its own birth?

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Release Date
August 17, 2023
JetZero embarks on the long journey to a blended wing airliner
Long Beach, California – At the close of 2007, Time Magazine declared Apple’s iPhone as the Invention of the Year. The runner up was Boeing’s X-48B — a blended wing body aircraft that validated the design and control attributes of the 8.5% scale demonstrator with NASA and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory. Time wrote it wouldn’t be available as a product for at least 15 to 20 years, but “don’t count on it ever going commercial.”

In a strange twist of industrial fate, the creators of both have come together for their next act: riding a growing wave of shifting U.S. industrial policy in a high-stakes technological fly-off for the future of the global jetliner market.

Related: NASA gives Boeing a second shot at reshaping commercial aviation

On Wednesday, startup JetZero was awarded $235 million over four years by the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Innovation Unit to develop a first-of-its-kind, full-scale piloted blended wing demonstrator. JetZero, Northrop Grumman and Scaled Composites will produce an aircraft that, if successful, could not only validate a radical 50% step change in structural and fuel efficiency, but also establish a new entrant in commercial aviation — an environment existentially inhospitable to new aspirants.

“Everybody wants to know, are we going to be here in 2031?” said JetZero CEO Tom O’Leary in a recent interview with The Air Current during a visit to the company’s headquarters at the Long Beach Airport. “Our answer to that is, the marathon begins with mile one. And for us, mile one was a conceptual design. And we got validation on that conceptual design with a program from the Air Force.”

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