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

X-Plane Aurora DARPA CRANE
Photo: Aurora Flight Sciences

Aurora Flight Sciences, a subsidiary of Boeing, has been awarded a $42.2m contract by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to continue the Control of Revolutionary Aircraft with Novel Effectors (CRANE) program.

The aim of the program is to design and build an X-plane that demonstrates the benefits of 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.

The contract covers work to be performed in multiple locations across the United States, with work expected to be completed by September 2025.

Lockheed Martin was another company that received a contract for the first phase of the program, which included system requirements development, initial design work, software development, and initial airworthiness activities. However, only Aurora Flight Sciences has been awarded funds for the next stages of the program so far.

In August 2021, DARPA also selected 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.

Aurora recently conducted wind tunnel testing of its X-plane candidate for the program. The company said the data collected will be used to develop flight control laws using active flow control as a primary control effector.

Earlier this year, Aurora conducted tests over four weeks using a 25% scale model at a wind tunnel facility in San Diego, California. In addition to 11 movable conventional control surfaces, the model featured 14 AFC banks with eight fully independent controllable AFC air supply channels. Over 14,000 data points were collected, including 8,860 AFC control power points, forming the foundation for a flight-quality aerodynamic database to enable rapid execution in future program phases.

Aurora says it is designing an X-Plane that uses AFC for multiple effects, including flight control at tactical speeds and performance enhancement across the flight envelope.