This Ninja Star-Shaped Jet Flies Sideways At Supersonic Speeds

Illustration for article titled This Ninja Star-Shaped Jet Flies Sideways At Supersonic Speeds

Forget everything you know about flying wing aircraft like the B-2 bomber and the F-117 stealth fighter. Researchers at the University of Miami are working on a star-shaped jet that can fly in two different directions. And by that I don't mean forward and backward, but forward and another forward.

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The NASA funded design, which is still in the computer modeling phase, has a long axis, and a short axis perpendicular to the long one. There are two cockpits: on one end of the long axis, and on one end of the short axis.

When it's taking off and cruising at low speeds, the plane can use the longer wingspan for lift, with the tips folded up, presumably for vertical stabilization. Then the rotates 90 degrees to use the short wingspan to travel really, really fast. Scientists figure change in direction will be super smooth; virtually unnoticeable from inside the plane.

Here's the kicker: Scientists believe that the aircraft's unique shape and short high speed wingspan will eliminate the sonic boom heard when conventional supersonic planes break the sound barrier. If that doesn't get the attention of drone manufacturers, I don't know what will. Imagine a drone that can take pictures or attack or whatever it is they do on a day-to-day basis, then launch into supersonic flight without all that atomic weapon noise supersonic planes are known for.

Illustration for article titled This Ninja Star-Shaped Jet Flies Sideways At Supersonic Speeds
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It'll probably be a couple of decades before we see anything like this actually flying around, but if someone with enough loot takes interest in it, that time could shrink. This one will supposedly get pretty decent fuel economy, so maybe we could eventually see passenger service that fares better than the Concorde did.

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Regardless of whether or not weapons manufacturers smell money, this ought to give someone like Elon Musk a pretty serious chubby. He could offer rides in the ninja star plane as part of a package deal to boost Tesla sales, then pour the money into cool SpaceX projects.

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But even if that doesn't work, these things will make killer comic book/video game subjects. So either way, somebody wins! (Hat tip to ThunderSi)

Photo credit: University of Miami

DISCUSSION

ash78
Ash78, voting early and often

I spent the first 15 years of my life studying aircraft design and coming up with the most farfetched ideas I could, which I would then run past my aero engineer father, only to have them critiqued and often shot down completely.

So I'll put on my dad hat and say the dual cockpits, dual control surfaces, and all the required redundancy for each, in addition to the unnecessary complexity of a rotating powerplant, would make this completely ridiculous when compared to a swept-wing design. If we're going for crazy, outlandish designs, we might as well resurrect the XB-70 and retrofit it for passenger usage.

The sonic boom thing is kind of cool, but I doubt it'd be a dealbreaker on a plane most often used at high altitudes and on trans-oceanic routes.