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Boeing Company's X-Plane Could Change Aviation as We Know It

AFC could one day replace the flaps and rudders used to maneuver most aircraft.

When Wilbur and Orville Wright successfully flew the first controllable aircraft in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, the 12-second flight was achieved using wing warping, a system of movable, external control surfaces that nearly every aircraft has used for flight control since. The CRANE project from DARPA and Aurora Flight Sciences could change everything we know about modern flight.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently selected Aurora for phase three of the Control of Revolutionary Aircraft with Novel Effectors (CRANE) program. During phase three, Aurora will build the X-65, a full-scale X-plane, to demonstrate the viability of using active flow control (AFC) actuators for primary flight control. 

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AFC could one day replace the flaps and rudders used to maneuver most aircraft. The hope is that AFC will improve aerodynamics while reducing weight and mechanical complexity by supplying 14 effectors on several surfaces with pressurized air to control the plane's roll, pitch, and yaw. 

The X-65 will have both sets of control actuators, traditional flaps and rudders as well as AFC effectors. The flaps and rudders will minimize risk and serve as a baseline against the craft's performance using AFC effectors.

Component tooling and part fabrication have already started at the Boeing subsidiary's West Virginia and Mississippi locations. The airframe will be built at Aurora West Virginia, followed by system integration and ground testing at the company's headquarters in Manassas, Virginia.

The X-65 will weigh more than 7,000 pounds, have a 30-foot wingspan and reach speeds up to Mach 0.7.

The aircraft should be completed in early 2025, with flight tests planned for that summer at tactically relevant scale and flight conditions for both commercial and military applications.

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