X-56A Demonstrator Achieves Successful First Flight

  • Published
  • By Holly Jordan, AFRL/RQOB
  • Aerospace Systems
The Air Force Research Laboratory has taken a major step forward in the development of active aircraft control technologies with the July 26, 2013, flight of the X-56A Multi-Utility Technology Testbed (MUTT) flight demonstrator. This flight took place at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, in conjunction with Lockheed Martin and NASA.

The X-56A is an innovative, modular, unmanned flight research vehicle that will allow investigation of active aeroelastic control technologies such as active flutter suppression and gust load alleviation. Flutter is a potentially catastrophic instability that can occur when unsteady aerodynamic forces acting on an aircraft structure couple with its natural vibration modes--the same basic phenomenon that caused the 1940 collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. The X-56A is designed to exhibit multiple rigid body and aeroelastic instabilities within its flight envelope, which will be actively managed by its flight control system.

During the flight, the X-56A flew at low altitude for 14 minutes while crews evaluated its handling qualities and collected airspeed calibration data. The aircraft behaved as predicted, and the flight was successfully completed.

The X-56A demonstrator is designed to test a wide range of advanced aerodynamic concepts and technologies. It is powered by twin JetCat P400 turbojets, has a 28-foot wing span, weighs 480 pounds, and is designed and constructed for easy wing replacement. The research to be conducted with the X-56A is critical for the successful development of future slender, lightweight, high-aspect-ratio wing designs that could be used by energy-efficient transport and various unmanned aircraft.

Following Air Force flight testing, the X-56A will be used by the Fixed Wing Project of NASA's Fundamental Aeronautics Program in its continuing research into lightweight structures and advanced technologies for future low-emissions transport aircraft.