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DARPA Funds Next Phase of Active Flow Control X-Plane

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has announced it is funding Aurora Flight Sciences’ active flow control (AFC)-based aircraft development phases 2 and 3.

Aurora will perform “detailed engineering design work” for a full-scale version of its experimental aircraft (X-plane) under the Control of Revolutionary Aircraft with Novel Effectors (CRANE) program phase 2.

The AFC technology uses actuators or effectors to enhance airflow over the aircraft, eliminating control surfaces like ailerons, rudders, and flaps.

Active Flow Control Aircraft

The 30-feet (9 meters) wide, 7,000-pound (3,175 kilograms) uncrewed aircraft will have pressurized air supplied to AFC effectors embedded in the aircraft’s body for “flight control at tactical speeds and performance enhancement,” Aurora explained.

The aircraft’s exchangeable outboard wings and AFC effectors will enable it to perform as a modular testbed for Aurora and other designers’ AFC effectors. 

Aurora Flight Sciences
Aurora Flight Sciences’ experimental aircraft model. Image: Aurora Flight Sciences

Previous Phases

The company developed two X-plane concept designs, including tools and technologies to incorporate AFC technologies in the aircraft design, in phase 0. 

The subsequent phase saw the aircraft’s preliminary design and wind tunnel testing, providing data for “developing flight control laws using AFC as a primary control effector.”

Flight Demonstration Expected in 2025

Phase 3 will see Boeing build and fly the aircraft. 

The aircraft’s AFC validation and demonstration at flight speed up to Mach 0.7 are expected in 2025.

“Given all that we have learned about AFC and its application to tactical aircraft in prior phases of CRANE, the next step is to prove out these learnings in flight,” said the vice president of government programs at Aurora Graham Drozeski

“The CRANE X-plane is designed specifically to explore the effectiveness of AFC technologies at mission-relevant scale and Mach numbers.”

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