While data on the environmental impact of air travel is scarce, in 2010 the Guardian estimated that it constitutes 13-15 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. It is, therefore, not surprising that making aviation greener is an increasingly popular endeavor.

On Tuesday, NASA announced that its experimental futuristic hybrid airplane, known as the X-48C, took flight for the first time. The remote control operated prototype combines the design features of a conventional airplane with those of a flying-wing design. By blending the wings into the body instead of sticking them onto the familiar tube shaped core, the model provides a quieter, greener aircraft with less drag and better lift. NASA hopes the final version of the plane — this model is only 8.5 percent of the expected final size — will provide a 20-30 percent improvement in aviation fuel efficiency.

NASA is partnering with the U.S. Air Force, Boeing and Cranfield Aerospace on the project, though no one has specified plans for the final version. Possibilities include using it as a bomber, a tanker, a transporter or possibly even a commercial jetliner. The lack of windows outside the cockpit, though, might make passengers uncomfortable.

During its maiden flight, the X-48C reached a top altitude of 5,500 feet and flew for only nine minutes, even though it is said to be capable of reaching 10,000 feet and flying for 35 minutes. Still, it was considered a success. Boeing, clearly thinking about the future as much as the present, expects development for military uses to be completed in the next 20 years.

Image and video credits: NASA