NASA launching ambitious research initiative to create new era of X-Planes

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Apr 25, 2016, 12:02 PM EDT

Creating something that changes the game typically involves a certain level of risk, so as NASA looks to kickstart a new generation of experimental aircraft, the space agency is launching a new initiative to rethink the ways we fly.

NASA has announced the “New Aviation Horizons” program, intended to design, build and fly a new series of X-planes during the next 10 years as a means to accelerate the adoption of advanced green aviation technologies by industry. X-Planes are basically experimental aircraft, serving as a catchall term for aircraft designed to try out unique techniques for speed, maneuverability and fuel efficiency. The concept dates back to the first-ever X-Plane, Bell Aircraft’s X-1, which broke the sound barrier in 1947.

“If we can build some of these X-planes and demonstrate some of these technologies, we expect that will make it much easier and faster for U.S. industry to pick them up and roll them out into the marketplace” Ed Waggoner, NASA’s Integrated Aviation Systems Program director, said in a statement. “We’re going to let the marketplace and the community help us inform our decisions on the direction we want to go. But we’re really excited about all of the things we might demonstrate.”

The initiative also has a focus on green technology as companies look to improve fuel efficiency and cut down on carbon emissions. NASA says the goals include showcasing how airliners can burn half the fuel and generate 75 percent less pollution during each flight as compared to now, while also being much quieter than today’s jets (even at potential supersonic speeds). Ideas could run the gamut, including throwback ideas like ultra-long wings.

With NASA keeping its big focus on a Mars mission, it's encouraging to see the space agency diversify in ways that could have an impact a bit closer to home. Plus, as NASA’s chief historian Bill Barry, noted: “They are really cool.”

Yes they are, Bill. Yes they are.

(Via NASA)