BAE Systems has been awarded a DARPA contract to progress the design and testing of revolutionary flow control technologies for future military aircraft programmes.

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded the contract to design a full scale demonstrator concept with active flow control (AFC) at its core, which could deliver significant operational enhancements to aircraft.

AFC allows the aircraft to maneuver in flight without conventional flight control surfaces, enabling improved performance, maintainability, and survivability.

The contract award forms part of DARPA’s Control of Revolutionary Aircraft with Novel Effectors (CRANE) project, which intends to inject AFC technology early into the aircraft design process to demonstrate significant efficiency benefits, as well as improvements to aircraft cost, weight, performance, and reliability.

BAE Systems’ role in Project CRANE builds on its innovation demonstrated through MAGMA in 2019, where a subscale aircraft was successfully maneuvered in flight using supersonically blown air and AFC technologies for the first time in aviation history.

Tom Fillingham, senior vice president – US programmes at BAE Systems Air, commented: “This award enables us to progress active flow control and our digital engineering capabilities at full scale, in collaboration with DARPA and the University of Manchester in the UK.

"Since our groundbreaking MAGMA trials, our engineers across the UK, US, and Australia have continued to innovate to identify improvements in the aircraft digital design process to deliver military value and operational advantages to the warfighter.”

As military aircraft confront increasingly contested and sophisticated threat environments, AFC offers potential military benefits that could deliver operational advantage in the battlespace.

The technology can supplement or replace conventional moveable control surfaces to improve the performance of an aircraft at various points in the flight regime, as well as reduce mass and volume compared to aircraft with conventional controls to enable greater payloads and greater flexibility to the operator.

The contract will see BAE Systems mature design, integration, and de-risking activities, including wind tunnel testing at its facilities in the North West of England in 2022. This innovative work will inform future phases of the CRANE programme, including the concept design activity.

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