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Aurora Flight Sciences begins construction of X-65 CRANE experimental aircraft

An artist's rendering of Aurora Flight Sciences' CRANE design. The first flight is scheduled in 2025. (DARPA)

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) selected Aurora Flight Sciences to build the X-65 Control of Revolutionary Aircraft with Novel Effectors (CRANE) experimental aircraft, intended to test the viability of manoeuvring without external flight surfaces, according to a 3 January statement from the organisation.

Component tooling and part fabrication have begun at Aurora Flight Sciences' facilities in West Virginia and Mississippi, the company said in a statement. System integration and ground testing are to take place in Manassas, Virginia, and a first flight is scheduled in the boreal summer of 2025.

Rather than traditional ailerons, elevators, and rudders – external surfaces that move to change an aircraft's motion – the X-65 is to use bursts of pressurised air provided by 14 active flow control (AFC) ‘effectors' embedded in the wing and flight surfaces. The intended result is an aircraft that can manoeuvre without moving parts, saving the weight of actuators and simplifying aircraft design.

Although the aircraft is designed with traditional surfaces in addition to the effectors, they are “like training wheels to help us understand how AFC can be used in place of traditional flaps and rudders”, said Richard Wlezien, DARPA's programme manager. “We'll have sensors in place to monitor how the AFC effectors' performance compares with traditional control mechanisms, and these data will help us better understand how AFC could revolutionise both military and commercial craft in the future,” he added.

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