The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has designated its groundbreaking aircraft as the X-65. DARPA chose Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences for the Control of Revolutionary Aircraft with Novel Effectors (CRANE) program. The X-65 aims to utilize bursts of air for active flow control, eliminating the need for traditional flight surfaces.
Active flow control (AFC) systems could enhance fuel efficiency and reduce radar signatures in aircraft design. The X-65 will execute maneuvers without exterior-moving flight controls like flaps, rudders, ailerons, elevators, and spoilers. Removing jointed surfaces can improve flight, reduce costs, decrease wear and tear, and enhance stealth characteristics.
Modular wing configurations will enable the integration of advanced technologies for future flight testing. The contract with Aurora Flight Sciences marks Phase 2 of the CRANE program, involving flight software and critical design review. Phase 3 of the contract includes the possibility of flying the 7,000-pound X-65 aircraft.
The X-65 joins the prestigious lineage of “X” aircraft, including the Bell X-1 and the hypersonic X-15. DARPA is actively engaged in other “X-plane” programs like the Liberty Lifter and Speed and Runway Independent Technologies (SPRINT). The X-65 is the result of Phase 2 of the CRANE project.
The X-65 design features canted double wings, resembling the X-Wing starfighter from Star Wars. Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing subsidiary, will build the full-sized, unmanned X-65 aircraft. Wind tunnel testing on a quarter-size prototype of the X-65 has been completed by Aurora Flight Sciences.
The X-65 is expected to achieve Mach .7 (537 miles per hour) and will have wings spanning up to 30 feet. The X-65 will likely be powered by a single jet engine with intakes and exhausts for compressed air generation. The X-65’s modular design allows for the integration of different wings and AFC effectuators from various companies.
Active flow control manipulates airflow using nozzles on the aircraft, reducing drag and increasing stealth capabilities. AFC technology has the potential to enhance maneuverability and improve fuel efficiency and range for military and civilian aircraft.AFC systems offer weight reduction, decreased complexity, radar cross-section reduction, fuel savings, and lower manufacturing costs.