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NASA's X-48C hybrid wing-body plane completes first test flight

Alexis Santos

After planting a rover firmly on Mars' surface and testing a new methane-fueled lander, NASA has squeezed in the first test flight of its X-48C hybrid wing-body aircraft. Thanks to its design, which combines those of flying-wing and conventional planes, the X-48 could offer 20 to 30 percent more fuel-efficiency, greater fuel capacity and a quieter ride in its final form than traditional craft. The finished model has a projected range of 11,000 nautical miles and a 240-foot wingspan. As an 8.5 percent scale of the full-sized airplane, the remotely piloted prototype weighs in at 500 pounds with a 20-foot wingspan. During the test, it successfully took to the skies for nine minutes and peaked at an altitude of 5,500 feet -- though it's capable of soaring for 35 minutes and climbing nearly twice as high. Another version of the craft (likely with a human behind the flight stick) is estimated to be at least four years down the road, and the final model isn't expected to arrive for another decade.