Air Force Awards JetZero $235 Million to Develop Blended Wing Body Demonstrator

A computer-generated rendering of the blended wing body prototype aircraft. On Aug. 16, 2023, the Department of the Air Force selected JetZero for the BWB prototype aircraft project. The effort aims to mature BWB technology and demonstrate its capabilities, giving the department and commercial industry more options for future air platforms. (Image: U.S. Air Force)

The Department of Defense's (DoD) Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) has awarded a $235 million contract to JetZero for the "next phase of a blended wing body (BWB) prototype aircraft project," according to an Aug. 16 press release. Under the four-year period of the contract award, JetZero will develop a full-scale BWB demonstrator to be ready for a first flight by the first quarter of 2027.

JetZero is a Los Angeles, California-based company that was founded in 2021, prior to emerging from stealth operations in April to unveil its plans to build a blended wing body aircraft for the airline middle market or flights with more than 200 passengers. The company has partnerships with Northrop Grumman and Scaled Composites for the design, manufacturing and mission systems integration aspects of the full-scale demonstrator they're developing.

Pratt & Whitney is also supplying its Geared Turbofan (GTF) engine technology for the demonstrator.

“Blended wing body aircraft have the potential to significantly reduce fuel demand and increase global reach,” said Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall. “Moving forces and cargo quickly, efficiently, and over long distance is a critical capability to enable national security strategy.”

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration describes blended wing body aircraft as one that merges high-lift wings with a wide airfoil-shaped body in a design that allows the entire airframe generate lift and minimize drag. While the BWB concept has been around for decades, more recent technology advancements in structural design, materials technology, manufacturing, and other areas have made large-scale production achievable.

The Air Force further believes that "several military transport configurations are possible with the BWB." While JetZero is using conventional engines and jet fuel in the initial design for its full scale demonstrator and production aircraft, the company eventually sees the use of hydrogen propulsion becoming a reality for BWB aircraft.

“It’s been a little over a hundred years since a few brave Airmen took to the skies and proved the first aerial refueling capability, extending the global reach of our Air Force. This announcement marks another game-changing milestone for the Air Force in our efforts to maintain the advantage of airpower effectiveness against any future competitors,” said Dr. Ravi Chaudhary, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Energy, Installations, and Environment.