Aviation Week has reported about the release of the X-56A Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), a new X-plane of the U.S. Air Force.
The X-56A UAV will test gust load alleviation and active flutter suppression, which are key technologies that accelerate the development of thin, high-aspect-ratio, lightweight wings for future transports and UAVs used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The X-56A flying wing was designed by Skunk Works of Lockheed Martin and is recognized as the future of high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) reconnaissance aircraft. NASA will also fly the X-56A flying wing.
The 28-foot-long X-56A UAV’s design facilitates wing replacement. It has several sets of flexible wings, stiff wings and a parachute recovery system that helps during wing failure in flight. It will test the exterior boundaries of the flight envelope in which flutter happens. Flutter is the potentially disastrous dynamic coupling that happens between the wing’s elastic motion and the aerodynamic loads working on it.
Final assembly of the X-56A is taking place at GFMI Aerospace and Defense located in California. Lockheed will receive the UAV in April 2012 and then will transport it to Edwards Air Force Base in June 2012. Test flights are slated for this summer and the X-56A is anticipated to be transported to NASA by the end of this year.
According to Aviation Week’s Senior Editor, Guy Norris, the HALE UAV’s success will depend on its capability to survey huge areas with sensor-embedded wings. For this purpose, the wings must have high stability and the X-56A will assist in innovating methods for envisaging these thin aerofoils’ behavior and ways to save them from fluttering. The X-56A smartly decreases the risk of losing the whole aircraft in these risky tests, while providing the necessary technological inputs to NASA and the U.S. Air Force, Norris concluded.