What do breaking the sound barrier, Neil Armstrong and Alaska Airlines have in common?

NASA and Boeing unveiled the new X-66A livery at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh. (Image: Boeing)

They are all related to the NASA X aircraft program!

In partnership with NASA, Boeing and other airlines, it was announced earlier this week that Alaska will participate in the Sustainable Flight Demonstrator (SFD) program to help develop the NASA X-66A aircraft. The X-66A is designed to test the Transonic Truss-Braced Wing airframe configuration, which is estimated to reduce fuel consumption and emissions up to 30 percent relative to today’s most efficient aircraft using an airframe with long, slender wings supported by diagonal struts connected to the lower fuselage. This is the first time that an X-plane is focused on helping to achieve the goal of net-zero aviation greenhouse gas emissions.

“At Alaska, we have set an ambitious goal for our carbon emissions to be net zero by 2040, but we know we can’t get there alone,” said Diana Birkett Rakow, senior vice president of public affairs and sustainability. “Decarbonizing aviation is one of the most daunting challenges of our time and will require solutions that don’t yet exist. It’s going to take both the public and private sectors coming together to enable step change innovation. Alaska is committed to playing an active role in solving this challenge which is why we have partnered with pioneers like NASA and Boeing to further aviation sustainability.”

As a partner to NASA and Boeing, Alaska will offer feedback on how the aircraft performs, including operational efficiencies, maintenance, handling characteristics and airport compatibility. The X-planes are a series of experimental U.S. aircraft and rockets that are used to test and evaluate new technologies. The “X” designator within the US system of aircraft designations, denotes the experimental research mission. According to NASA, their history with the X-plane designation dates to the 1940s, when its predecessor agency, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) jointly created an experimental aircraft program with the Air Force and the U.S. Navy.

“It is inspiring to think of the all the important innovations that have resulted from NASA X-planes – breaking the sound barrier, flying to the edge of space, varying wing sweep in flight, digitizing flight control systems – and to know we will be a part of developing the next generation of commercial aircraft,” said Pasha Saleh, corporate development director and Alaska’s representative to the SFD program, “As we have done for the last 90+ years, Alaska is well positioned to be a pragmatic innovator, designing the future of aviation for the good of the planet.”

Stay tuned for more as the program takes flight!