The Boeing Company and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are teamed to develop a prototype fighter aircraft designed for stealth and agility. The result--after only 28 months--is a subscale tailless aircraft called the X-36.
The 28-percent scale, remotely piloted X-36 has no vertical or horizontal tails, yet it is expected to be more maneuverable and agile than today's fighters. In addition, the tailless design reduces the weight, drag and radar cross section typically associated with traditional fighter aircraft.
In a series of upcoming flight tests, the low-cost X-36 research vehicle will demonstrate the feasibility of using new flight control technologies in place of vertical and horizontal tails to improve the maneuverability and survivability of future fighter aircraft.
During flight, the X-36 will use new split ailerons and a thrust-vectoring nozzle for directional control. The ailerons not only split to provide yaw (left and right) control, but also raise and lower asymmetrically to provide roll control.
The X-36 vehicle also incorporates an advanced, single-channel digital fly-by-wire control system developed with commercially available components.
Fully fueled, the X-36 prototype weighs 1,300 pounds. It is 19 feet long and measures 11 feet at its widest point. It is 3 feet high and is powered by a Williams Research F112 engine that provides about 700 pounds of thrust.
Using a video camera in the nose of the vehicle, a pilot controls the flight of the X-36 from a virtual cockpit--complete with head-up display (HUD)--in a ground-based station. This pilot-in-the-loop approach eliminates the need for expensive and complex autonomous flight control systems.
Boeing, through the former McDonnell Douglas, has been working under contract to NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., since 1989 to develop the technical breakthroughs required to achieve tailless agile flight. Based on the positive results of extensive wind tunnel tests, McDonnell Douglas in 1993 proposed building a subscale tailless research aircraft.
In 1994 McDonnell Douglas and NASA began joint funding of the development of this aircraft, now designated the X-36. Under the roughly 50/50 cost-share arrangement, NASA Ames is responsible for continued development of the critical technologies, and Boeing for fabricating the aircraft.
Boeing has built the X-36 with a combination of advanced, low-cost design and manufacturing techniques pioneered by the company's Phantom Works research-and-development operation.
Among these techniques are:
advanced software development tools for rapid avionics prototyping;
low-cost tooling molds;
composite skins cured at low temperatures without the use of autoclaves, and;
high speed machining of unitized assemblies.
Two identical subscale research vehicles have been produced by the team for use in the flight test program. Including design and production of the two aircraft and flight testing, the total cost of the X-36 program is only $17 million.
The X-36 flight test program is began in 1997 at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. A total of 25 flights will be conducted during the six-month flight test program, which is designed to prove the aircraft's superior agility. Initial tests will focus on the low-speed, high angle-of-attack performance of the X-36.
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