Will Northrup Grumman Go Into Commercial Aviation?

There are two commercial aviation giants, America’s Boeing and British and French Airbus. Others like Brazil with Embraer, China with Comac C919, and Russia with Sukhoi Superjet are either niche players or simply have not broken into the market. It takes a lot of time and a lot of money to compete against Boeing and Airbus. For commercial air carriers to buy a new jet from a new company they need to be convinced that all of the trouble and expense will be worth it. In this regard a new company with a fresh idea with backing by defense contractor Grumman is worth one’s attention. The bottom line is this. Will Northrop Grumman go into commercial aviation?

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Why Is a Triangular Jet a Good Idea?

There is a new aviation startup and they have substantial financial and technical backing including from defense giant Northrup Grumman. JetZero’s triangle-shaped jet even has funding of $235 million from the Pentagon. It would seem that knowledgeable folks are backing this. Why is a triangular jet a good idea? With few exceptions, airplanes have been designed for more than a century along the same lines. Wilber and Orville Wright flew at Kitty Hawk with a plane that had a long body with wings and a tail with a rudder, vertical stabilizers, horizontal stabilizers, and elevators. Passenger jets today have the same general design.

The folks who want to make a triangular jet say that you do not need all of that stuff back at the tail and that it is just extra weight. They contend that their triangular design will result in half the fuel being used to get people from here to there.

JetZero says that the triangular jet will be quieter as well as more fuel efficient. The body of the plane itself will be designed to provide lift and not just the wings. Because the body of the jet will be wider, it will use its interior space more efficiently. The jet will be lighter than a standard model with comparable seating capacity.

A Triangular Jet Is Not Really New

The concept of what is essentially a flying wing goes back to Germany and airplane designer Hugo Junkers. More recently the B-2 stealth bomber uses this idea.

The maker of the B-2, interestingly enough, is Northrup Grumman. While both Airbus and Boeing have looked at similar concepts they are not making this idea any sort of priority. Meanwhile JetZero is. They are nearly ready for test flights of a one-eighth scale model of this plane. Their target for having a full scale model ready for test flights is four years from now.

The Boeing prototype is on the left and the Airbus prototype is on the right.

Time and Cost of Bringing a New Jet to the Market

It takes deep pockets like those of Boeing and Airbus to design, build, and move a new airplane through as long as a decade of testing to achieve certification in the US and elsewhere. That is time when a company is spending money without any sales. Once a jet has been approved by the FAA and others the company needs to build assembly lines, set up a supply chain, and convince airlines around the world to add one more type of airplane to their fleet. A new triangular jet will use dual engines to do what the tail assembly does on standard jets. This means a whole different kind of flying and training. Will pilots be cross trained to fly both types or will a whole new breed of pilot be required? Here is where having Pentagon backing and Northrup Grumman’s money and technology are important.

More Aviation Advances on the Horizon

Airbus is looking at hydrogen propulsion that could eventually be used for a flying wing. However, neither Boeing nor Airbus is planning to do much more work on these ideas well into the next decade. However, JetZero is pushing forward with help from Northrup Grumman. Other small aviation companies are working on air taxis and similar smaller planes but nobody but JetZero and Northrup Grumman are working toward a triangular jet to be carrying passengers in the 2030s. Pentagon likes the greater range of this kind of light weight and fuel efficient plane for military purposes.

It remains to be seen if Northrup Grumman is only in this for the plane’s potential use as a military asset like the B-2. Or will Northrup Grumman go into commercial aviation and compete head to head with Boeing and Airbus?

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