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DARPA has announced it will build an experimental aircraft called X-65 that will use jets of air instead of moving parts to control its flight. It aims to demonstrate the practicability of active flow control (AFC) actuators for primary flight control.

According to Interesting Engineering, AFC actuators manipulate the airflow over the aircraft’s surface by blowing compressed air from nozzles. The actuators change the air pressure and direction around the aircraft thus altering its roll, pitch, and yaw without needing conventional control surfaces like flaps, rudders, and ailerons.

The experimental aircraft will be a full-scale, unmanned plane with a distinctive, diamond-like wing shape. It will be built by Aurora Flight Sciences (a subsidiary of Boeing) as part of the third phase of the Control of Revolutionary Aircraft with Novel Effectors (CRANE) program.

This innovation could have various advantages like reducing the weight, complexity, and maintenance costs of the aircraft, as well as improving its performance, stealth, and maneuverability.

The X-65 will have both traditional and AFC control actuators to allow for a gradual transition and comparison between the two systems. The plan is to first fly with conventional control surfaces, then gradually switch to AFC actuators while sensors monitor the differences in control effectiveness.

The X-65 will weigh over 3175 kg, have a 9-meter wingspan, and reach speeds up to Mach 0.7 – a size and speed comparable to a military trainer aircraft, making its test results relevant to real-world applications.

The X-65 is expected to be rolled out in early 2025 and have its first flight in the summer. The plane will also be modular, meaning its various parts can be easily replaced for further testing and experimentation.

DARPA expresses its hope that the X-65 will pave the way for a new generation of aircraft that will use AFC as the primary or sole means of flight control for both military and commercial purposes.

This information was provided by Interesting Engineering.