X-Plane Program

DARPA has selected three performers to work on the Control of Revolutionary Aircraft with Novel Effectors (CRANE) program, which aims to demonstrate an aircraft design based on Active Flow Control (AFC), an area not fully explored compared to traditional flight controls. The goal is to demonstrate significant efficiency benefits of AFC, as well as improvements in aircraft cost, weight, performance, and reliability.

Three performers on the Control of Revolutionary Aircraft with Novel Effectors program will seek to demonstrate active flow control for aircraft stability and in-flight control

«The performers are looking at using active flow control very early in the design scope. That’s the differentiating piece that hasn’t been done before», said Alexander Walan, the program manager for CRANE in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. «AFC has been explored at a component level, but not as an integral piece of aircraft design. By altering the design approach, CRANE seeks to maximize the chance of a successful X-plane development while also integrating AFC into the aircraft’s stability and control».

The program is kicking off Phase 0, a long conceptual design phase to give performers time to evaluate flow control options before solidifying their demonstration approaches. The performers selected for Phase 0 are:

  • Aurora Flight Sciences;
  • Lockheed Martin; and
  • Georgia Tech Research Corporation.

Phase 0 awards will comprise multiple conceptual design trades, active flow control component testing, multi-domain analysis and optimization, concept down selection, and a conceptual design review.

Over the past two decades, the term AFC has described a wide range of fluid dynamic control approaches. For the CRANE program, active flow control is defined as the on-demand addition of energy into a boundary layer for maintaining, recovering, or improving vehicle aerodynamic performance. CRANE is excluding already proven techniques that use large external moving surfaces, mechanical vectoring of engine jet exhaust, or other traditional moving aerodynamic control devices.

CRANE performers are expected to maximize use of commercial off-the-shelf-parts and components for non-flight control subsystems to reduce program risk outside of unique configurations and AFC technologies.

«Active flow control technology has matured at the component level to the point where a potential leap forward in aircraft technology is possible», said Walan. «We see an opportunity with CRANE to open up the future design space for both defense and civilian applications».

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