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X-56A UAV, Latest USAF X-Plane, Revealed

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New USAF X-Plane, the X-56A UAV, Revealed by Aviation Week

(Source: Aviation Week; issued February 3, 2012)

NEW YORK --- In exclusive coverage, Aviation Week has revealed a new U.S. Air Force X-plane, the X-56A Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), which will test active flutter suppression and gust load alleviation-- vital technologies that will propel the development of slender, lightweight, high-aspect-ratio wings for future transports and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance UAVs.

Designed by Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works, the X-56A flying wing will also be flown by NASA and is considered the future of high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) reconnaissance aircraft.

Configured for easy wing replacement, the 28-foot-long X-56A features stiff wings, as well as multiple sets of flexible wings, and a parachute recovery system, in case a wing fails in flight. The UAV will test the outer limits 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.

"The success of HALE UAVs will hinge on their ability to survey vast areas with sensors embedded in the wings. The wings therefore have to be very stable, and the X-56A will help pioneer methods for predicting the behavior of these thin aerofoils as well as ways to prevent them from fluttering," said Guy Norris, senior editor, Aviation Week. "The X-56A cleverly reduces the risk of losing an entire aircraft during these risky tests, and will provide technological insights that are essential to both the Air Force and NASA."

The X-56A is in final assembly at GFMI Aerospace and Defense in California and will be delivered to Lockheed in April and transported to Edwards Air Force Base in June. Test flights are scheduled for this summer, and the X-56A is expected to transfer to NASA by year's end.