An unmanned aerial vehicle tested by the Air Force could mean longer ranges and heavier payloads which could have uses in both civilian and military roles, researchers say.
The X-56A Multi-Utility Technology Testbed, an Air Force Research Laboratory program managed at Wright-Patterson, launched last month on a test flight for the first time at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., officials said Monday.
The Air Force is working in tandem with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and aerospace giant Lockheed Martin on the $18 million research effort.
Researchers had spent more than three years preparing the aircraft for flight prior to take-off July 26, said Peter Flick, AFRL program manager at Wright-Patterson.
“It felt awesome to be finally able to get the aircraft in the air,” he said in a conference call Monday with reporters.
The first 14-minute flight of the 480-pound, two jet engine aircraft ended successfully, officials said.
The Air Force is testing the aircraft in real world conditions to determine how well it handles “flutter”or the instability of vibration and wobbling in flight that could lead to wings snapping.
“We set out to develop this aircraft and it had to be relatively inexpensive because we were going to put it at risk,” he said.
Aircraft builders typically increase the strength of wings to handle flutter, raising the weight of the vehicle. The tests will explore the capability of both a “stiffer” wing and more lightweight and flexible fiberglass wing alternative to fly higher, faster and further.
The Air Force could use the technology in surveillance drones.
The military will turn the UAV over to NASA at Dryden Research Center at Edwards at the end of the year for additional flight tests.