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Boeing Starts Chopping Up Old MD-90 to Create New Experimental Aircraft

The X-65 isn't the only experimental aircraft under Boeing's wing.

Last week, Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences started work on phase three of a DARPA project to make a full-scale X-plane, the X-65, which could change aircraft design as we know it. 

Well, the X-65 isn't the only experimental aircraft under Boeing's wing. This week, the airplane maker started modifying an MD-90 aircraft, including removing the engines and taking 3D scans. The project is part of the X-66 design collaboration with NASA. 

After extensive modification, the MD-90 will become the X-66 Sustainable Flight Demonstrator (SFD). The X-66 is NASA's first experimental plane project focused on moving the U.S. towards net-zero aviation greenhouse gas emissions. 

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Next, the team will remove the jet's original wings to test a Transonic Truss-Braced Wing (TTBW) design with new ultrathin wings braced by struts with larger spans and higher aspect ratios. According to NASA, the new wing design should produce less drag with longer, thinner wings supported by aerodynamic trusses. The agency believes aircraft using TTBW could consume up to 10 percent less jet fuel than a standard airliner.

Boeing will use the 3D modeling software to overlay the existing MD-90 with the new X-66 components. The hope is to identify and mitigate risks early in the modification process. Ground and flight testing is scheduled to begin in 2028.

NASA selected Boeing's TTBW concept in January 2023. The MD-90 is a single-aisle airliner developed by McDonnell Douglas. McDonnell Douglas merged with Boeing in August 1997.

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