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Active Aeroelastic Wing flight research vehicle receives X-53 designation

The X-53 proved Active Aeroelastic Wing Technology in full scale.  (Air Force photo by Jim Ross, NASA Dryden flight Research Center)

The X-53 proved Active Aeroelastic Wing Technology in full scale. (Air Force photo by Jim Ross, NASA Dryden flight Research Center)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Air Force Research Laboratory researchers recently received word that the Active Aeroelastic Wing (AAW) flight demonstrator has been assigned the Mission Design Series number X-53. The designation makes it the first successful X plane initiated within the Air Vehicles Directorate since the X-24 lifting body concept, which was later employed on the Space Shuttle.

The AAW flight demonstrator, a joint effort between AFRL's Air Vehicles Directorate, NASA Dryden and The Boeing Company, is a highly-modified F/A-18 fitted with AAW technology. AAW is a novel wing concept that integrates air vehicle aerodynamics, active controls, and structures to maximize air vehicle performance. AAW technology seeks to use aeroelastic effects, which are normally detrimental to an aircraft's performance, to the benefit of the vehicle.

Traditionally, air vehicles have been designed with stiff geometry in order to minimize aeroelastic instabilities such as aeroelastic control effectiveness. The AAW concept turns aeroelastic flexibility into a net benefit by exploiting the wings' aeroelastic twist. AAW control surfaces control the wing aeroelastic shape at high speeds and maneuver loads at high wing strain conditions to provide large amounts of control power, or can minimize aerodynamic drag at low wing strain conditions.

Receiving the X-53 designation is an important step forward in AAW technology. The X-53 moniker gives the vehicle a higher recognition factor and will likely generate greater interest in the concept from a technology transition perspective.

The AAW concept may play a crucial role in future aircraft, such as future strike unmanned aerial vehicles and global engagement bombers.