La DARPA is developing a new type of aircraft with no external moving parts, an "X-Plane" that uses active airflow control to move and maneuver. The choice of the company that deals with its construction fell on Aurora flight sciences. The program name is CRANE (Control of Revolutionary Aircraft with Novel Effectors), and insiders can't wait to see the first tests in the wind tunnel.
The next steps
After the analysis and the feasibility study on the aircraft design, the subsequent phases have already been illustrated in the plan.
Second phase: detailed design and development of software and flight controls. The culmination of this phase will be the creation of a first working prototype, capable of flying without the traditional flight controls external to the wings and tail but exploiting the air flow control. The demonstrator aircraft will have unique and scalable wing configurations, which will allow future integration of advanced technologies for flight tests, both by DARPA and possible transition partners.
Finally, the last preparatory phase for a real revolution: the creation of an X-plane of about 3 tons: the last proof of concept before the integration of airflow systems on large aircraft.
Flow control aircraft, the time is ripe
“The past few decades have seen major advances in the airflow control community,” says CRANE program manager, Richard Wleizen. “This allows us today to study how there can be an integration of active flow control technologies in advanced aircraft. We are optimistic to complete the design and flight tests of a demonstrator aircraft with active flow control as the main priority. The The CRANE X-plane has the potential to become an asset even after the CRANE program ends."
The ultimate goal? Wleizen makes no secret of it: literally transforming military aircraft as we know them today and making them lighter, more manoeuvrable, more efficient and cheaper. I don't know whether to hope that the project fails to avoid seeing ever more effective weapons of war, or that it succeeds due to the inevitable repercussions on civilian flight.