737 MAX 10, NASA’s Ingenuity and others make first flights
By Michael Logan and Michael Drake|December 2021
The Aircraft Design Technical Committee promotes optimization of aircraft systems, including analysis of their future potential.
First flights occurred this year across the spectrum of aircraft types, including commercial airliners, business jets, advanced air mobility, electric powered, uncrewed aircraft and subscale demonstrators. There was even the first powered flight of an aircraft on another planet.
The Boeing 737 MAX 10, the newest version of the venerable 737, made a 2½-hour flight from Renton Municipal Airport in Washington in June. The MAX 10 has an extended fuselage to carry up to 230 passengers and a projected range of 3,300 nautical miles (6,100 kilometers). The aircraft has a new landing gear concept that compensates for the longer fuselage body’s adverse impact on takeoff performance, while still stowing in the same wheel well. Boeing expects to complete certification of the new jet in 2023.
In business aviation, the Dassault Aviation Falcon 6X took its first flight from the company’s plant in Bordeaux-Mérignac, France, in March. The aircraft is a follow-on to the Falcon 5X with new engines and a longer fuselage. The aircraft carries 16 passengers, has a range projected to be 5,500 nmi (10,200 km), a long-range cruise speed of Mach 0.8 and a maximum speed of Mach 0.9. It is powered by two Pratt & Whitney PW812D engines. Certification is projected for 2022. The Textron Aviation Denali began ground runs in preparation for first flight. The Denali has the new GE Catalyst turboprop engine and carries up to 11 passengers. It has a range of 1,600 nmi (3,000 km) with four passengers and a maximum cruise speed of 285 knots (530 kph).
Among commercial supersonic aircraft companies, Boom Supersonic continued development of its demonstrator XB-1, and announced in June that United Airlines would buy 15 of the full-scale aircraft. However, Aerion Supersonic failed to obtain financing for continued development of its AS2 supersonic business jet and ended operations.
Companies continued to develop advanced air mobility concepts. In July, Joby Aviation remotely flew the full-scale prototype of its electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft for 77 minutes on a single charge, its longest flight. The eVTOL’s 11 circuits above Joby’s California flight base was the equivalent of traveling 247 kilometers. From late August to early September, Joby conducted a series of remotely piloted flights with the same eVTOL S4 aircraft, the first under NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility National Campaign. The aircraft flew over dozens of microphones placed by NASA engineers to gather acoustics data. Rolls-Royce’s all-electric Spirit of Innovation also was flown for a short first flight in September in the United Kingdom. Rolls-Royce has said it wants to advance all-electric flight propulsion systems by developing an aircraft that will set electrified aircraft speed records.
Glasair Aviation’s Merlin light sport aircraft was flown for an hour on its first flight in April. The Merlin was designed to ASTM standards for light sport aircraft and has a parachute recovery system.
Among uncrewed aircraft, the Boeing Airpower Teaming System, also known as the Loyal Wingman, prototype completed its first flight from the Woomera Range Complex in South Australia in February. It is designed to be flown with crewed military aircraft to offer flexibility for defense missions. Boeing said it is the first military combat aircraft to be designed, engineered and manufactured in Australia in more than 50 years.
As of November, the NASA Ingenuity Mars Helicopter, which made its historic first flight on Mars in April, had flown 15 sorties, the longest approaching three minutes. The first flight of the 1.8-kilogram helicopter lasted 39.1 seconds and was “the very first powered, controlled flight in the extremely thin atmosphere of Mars, and, in fact, the first such flight in any world beyond Earth,” according to NASA.