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DARPA awards contracts for next phase of active flow control X-plane program

X-Plane concept
Photo: DARPA

The US Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) has selected multiple performers to continue the Control of Revolutionary Aircraft with Novel Effectors (CRANE) program.

CRANE aims to demonstrate an aircraft design based on active flow control (AFC), a technology that enables 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.

Following the latest contract award, Aurora Flight Sciences and Lockheed Martin Corporation are entering Phase 1, which includes system requirements development, initial design work, software development, and initial airworthiness activities that culminate in a preliminary design review.

“The Phase 1 researchers have completed conceptual designs of novel flight demonstration configurations with quantifiable performance benefits enabled by active flow control (AFC),” said Dr. Alexander Walan, program manager for CRANE in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “Multiple AFC technologies will continue to be matured through advanced analytical and testing activities for incorporation in relevant demonstrator designs.”

One of the primary objectives of Phase 0 was the development and maturation of AFC design software and databases for inclusion in future aircraft development activities. Georgia Tech Research Corporation’s Phase 0 effort has been extended to allow further refinement of these tools for transition to relevant military and government partners.

“In addition to its role in upcoming flight test activities, AFC design software is a critical piece for the inclusion of AFC technologies in future defense and commercial aircraft designs,” said Walan. “The CRANE program is in a unique position to provide a comprehensive AFC database and the associated tools to future aircraft designers. The continuation of Georgia Tech Research Corporation’s work in this area will ensure this valuable capability is successfully transitioned to the aircraft design community.”

DARPA has also selected another performer, BAE Systems, to initiate a Phase 0 conceptual design activity. Phase 0 is focused on AFC trade space exploration and risk reduction activities to inform this work. Under the recent Phase 0 award, BAE Systems will evaluate the benefits of using AFC integrated into different air vehicle concepts leading to a conceptual design review.

“All of the CRANE performers are exploring unique configurations and performance objectives; this additional performer adds to the diverse concepts and technologies being matured by the CRANE program,” said Walan.