On March 19, 1996, NASA and industry partner McDonnell Douglas Corporation (MDC)
unveiledto the public a new subsonic flight vehicle designated X-36. A remotely
piloted tailless research craft, the X-36 is designed to demonstrate the
feasibility of future tailless military fighters that can achieve agility levels
superior to those oftoday's aircraft.
In the absence of a tail, control of the X-36 is accomplished by a combination
of thrust vectoring (maneuvering by directing the engine's exhaust flow) and
innovative aerodynamic control features. Tailless fighter configurations offer
reduced weight, increased range and improvement in survivability; the X-36
program is intended to establish confidence to incorporate these technologies
infuture piloted vehicles.
The unmanned X-36 is "flown" by a pilot located in a van at the flight test
facility; a camera in the X-36cockpit relays instrument readings and displays to
aconsole in the van. With a wing span of only 10.4 feet and a gross weight under
1,300 pounds, the X-36 is powered by a single turbofan originally designed as a
cruise missile power plant.
The subscale vehicle was selected for affordability, in line with NASA's "better,cheaper,
faster" approach to new aerospace developments. At 28 percent scale, it enables
demonstration of all key control integration technologies at a fraction of the
cost of a full scale piloted aircraft.
The initial X-36 was developed and built in only28 months; a second model was
under construction at midyear 1996. The program resulted from a 1994
cost-sharing NASA/MDC agreement under which Ames Research Centeris responsible
for continued development ofcritical technologies and MDC is responsiblefor
fabrication of the two X-planes.
publication time, the X-36 was being readied for a midsummer
start of the flight test program at Dryden Flight Test Center. The combined cost
for development, fabrication and flight testing is approximately $17 million.
The X-36 project exemplifies one aspect of abroad NASA aeronautical research and
technology program that seeks to improve the performance, efficiency and
environmental characteristics of all types of planes, and additionally addresses
such infrastructure factors as air traffic control, navigation and
Basic research of a general nature aims atadvancing aerodynamics, propulsion,
materialsand structures, aviation electronics, and knowledge of the human
factors in flight operations. Another part of the program embraces technology
development for specifictypes of flight vehicles, such as high performance
military aircraft or the tiltrotor type of transport on the near horizon. A
third part of the program seeks solution of current and predictable aviation
problems, such as reducing airplane and helicopter noise levels, finding ways to
alleviate air traffic congestion, and a variety of safety-related
Among priority objectives are development of payoff technologies for a new
generation of economic, environmentally acceptable U.S. subsonic aircraft and a
safe, highly productive air transportation system; building a technology base
for an economically viable second generation supersonic passenger transport;
developing and demonstrating technologies for airbreathing hypersonic flight;
and maintaining/operating critical facilities for aeronautical research in
support of industry and technology-generating government agencies.
NASA pursues these objectives through inhouse research and cooperative endeavors
with academia, industry and other government agencies. NASA's principal
aeronautical research facilities are Ames Research Center, Moffett Field,
California; Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia; Lewis Research Center,
Clevel and, Ohio; and Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, California.
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