Airline evolution: How NASA’s push for the next step in commercial flying could see you in a B2-bomber

It appears that the brilliant minds over at NASA want to see you flying in something a bit snazzier in the future. No we don’t mean donning your Sunday best; we’re talking about the type of aircraft you’re flying in.

According to an article in Aviation Week, NASA tasked aircraft makers Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman to design a next-generation airliner. While Boeing and Lockheed have already shown off their designs, Northrop Grumman has only recently displayed its proposed concept, and it looks strikingly similar to the current crop of B-2 bombers in use by the military.

Originally NASA intended on taking all three designs from each company and later selecing one  design concept to move forward with. Once chosen, NASA then planned developing a 737-sized test craft, but due to current funding cutbacks has shelved that idea for now.

According to Flight Global, who was contacted by representatives from Northrop Grumman, despite the recent cutbacks, the company is unlikely to abandon its concept. Additionally, Northrop anticipates that in two decades time the USAF will need to replace the current fleet of Lockheed Martin C-5A’s, which Northrop is hoping it will opt to do with technology from its B2-inspired concept.

Of course breaking away from the possible military applications still places NG in a strong position with its fixed-wing B2-inspired aircraft (if it ever takes off). Even though the company isn’t generally accustomed to developing commercial craft, it still possesses an impressive design, which could see it picked up by NASA if and when funding permits.

Still, neither would it be smart to count out longtime commercial aircraft maker Boeing’s blended-wing concept which, while similar, houses some structural differences to its Northrop counterpart.

Juxtaposing a modern design with a futuristic twist, Lockheed Martin’s design shares little with NG and Boeing’s designs. Its concept looks similar to today’s current crop of commercial airliners, retaining the conventional fuselage, but opting for a radically different box-wing design.

NASA initially targeted 2025 for such aircraft to even be considered for commercial use, and while the technology appears to be there, or at least in development, who knows when the funding dollars will be available to move forward with any of these aircraft designs.