Lockheed Martin/NASA UAS to test advanced wing design

The X-56A, developed by Lockheed Martin Skunk Works and NASA, will fly sometime this year in California to test the craft's lightweight structures and advanced wing technology.

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Israeli news website Defense Update reported on Feb. 4 that a new X-Plane, dubbed X-56A, designed and developed by Lockheed Martin Skunk Works is expected to fly this year at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., USA, becoming a key test asset for the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL)-led Multiutility Aeroelastic Demonstration Program (MAD). These tests will contribute to AFRL’s follow-on work to SensorCraft, a class of High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) vehicles intended for surveillance as well as telecommunication relay and environmental sensing.

On its AFRL lead mission the 28-ft/8.5m-span vehicle will test active flutter suppression and gust load alleviation. Following that phase, the X-56A will be transferred to NASA, to support NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, to assist the research of lightweight structures and advanced technology for future low-emissions transport aircraft. Active flutter suppression and gust load alleviation is considered vital for the development of the slender, lightweight, high-aspect-ratio wings that could be used by future transports as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance UAVs.

Designed as a cranked delta planform, the X-56A bears similarity to former jet-powered Lockheed Martin UAV programs such as the P-175 Polecat, RQ-170 and DarkStar. It will be powered by twin JetCat P240 turbojets, and be configured for easy wing replacement. According to the report, the flight-test package will include two identical center bodies measuring 7.5 ft. long, as well as four sets of constant-chord wings. One set will be stiff for baseline flight tests, as well as follow-on research, while the remaining three will be identical flexible wings made with lighter skin material for flutter testing.

The X-56A will test to the edge of the flight envelope where flutter occurs. Flutter is the potentially catastrophic dynamic coupling that can occur between the elastic motion of the wing and the aerodynamic loads acting on it. If a test goes too far and a wing fails in flight, the X-56A is fitted with a fuselage-mounted ballistic parachute recovery system.

Derived from the ‘Multi-Use Technology Testbed’ (MUTT) design, the X-56A is in final assembly at GFMI Aerospace and Defense (Fountain Valley, Calif.), an engineering company specializing in prototype and mockup development. The aircraft is due to be delivered to Lockheed Martin in late April and will be transported to Edwards AFB in June.

Click here for original Defense Update report.