The public "premiere" of a unique and interesting sample of aviation technology took place as part of the Los Angeles County Air Show aviation festival held on March 24 and 25 at Fox Field airfield in California. The latter is located near the city of Palmdale, where, as you know, the Lockheed Martin Advanced Development Programs advanced development department is based, also known as the Skunk Works. This division of the company oversees the air show and tries in every way to help him. This time the event was supported by sending a unique exhibit.
An unmanned “flying wing” of medium dimensions was displayed at the exhibition, with the “X-44A” designation and a number of logos present on the sides: customer, developer, and program emblems. Since far from all the details of the X-44A research program are to be disclosed, there were no information signs near the drone.
The project Lockheed Martin X-44A is one of the most mysterious developments of the American aviation industry in recent decades. Not much is known about him, and the available data were always fragmentary. Foreign experts have repeatedly tried to make a general picture of the available open information, but it still contains large "white spots". The first public demonstration of an experienced drone is able to answer some questions, but it does not provide the full amount of the desired data.
According to some versions and estimates, the X-44A project dates back to another development of Lockheed Martin. In the nineties, a pilot project of the X-44 Multi-Axis No-Tail Aircraft was launched, the purpose of which was to study the new scheme of the aircraft without a tailless pattern. Previously it was assumed that the results of such a project, which ended in the mid-2000s, formed the basis of the new X-44A. However, as is now clear, two aircraft with similar names had too many differences to be considered related.
Why the new project of an unmanned aerial vehicle received a working designation that directly indicates continuity with another experimental development is unknown. Apparently, this was due to the secrecy of the new program and the need to conceal its goals from foreign intelligence services. After receiving information about the project with the letter “A”, foreign analysts could consider it the development of the existing X-44, while its true essence was different.
It is curious that the first information about the X-44A project came into free access in the mid-nineties, but then there was no way to correctly identify and link them with the promising development of Lockheed Martin. Back in May, 1996, the company filed an application for a patent with the theme Unmanned Aircraft ("Unmanned Aircraft"). In August of the following year, she received a patent number Des. 382851. The document was proposed original aerodynamic appearance of a promising UAV, built on the basis of the scheme "flying wing". The subject of internal equipment of the machine and its scope of application was not affected by the patent application.
The patent described the design of the UAV characteristic appearance with a number of recognizable features. The device was actually built on the basis of a middle swept wing and a large elongation. The center-section of the car was made at the same time as a rudimentary fuselage and was connected to polygonal consoles. Tail plumage was not provided. To control the machine should use the deflectable steering wheels on the rear edge of the consoles. An important feature of the proposed aerodynamic appearance were the contours formed by smooth and smoothly curved surfaces. Large protruding parts were missing. Only the air intake and the engine nozzle violated the harmonious appearance.
As follows from the schemes attached to the patent, the glider of the new UAV was to consist of three main units: the center section and a pair of consoles. The first was a hexagonal device with a characteristic surface shape. Above and below the plane of the wing provided curved areas, forming a kind of fuselage. At the same time, its lower half was noticeably larger than the upper one. On top of this fuselage was an oval air intake opening. Small-sized engine nozzle placed on the back "corner". On the bottom, there were several hatches for niches tricycle landing gear.
It was proposed to use the console elongation of a polygonal shape. The rear edge was formed by the root section parallel to the front one and the extreme one located at an angle to it. The pronounced ending was absent, its function was performed by the angle between the front and the beveled rear edges. On the rear edge of the consoles provided for the installation of control planes, two on each. Due to the lack of tail, these planes should have taken over the functions of all the necessary rudders. Due to synchronous or differentiated deviations, such planes could control roll, pitch or yaw.
Questions layout, on-board equipment, flight characteristics, etc. in the patent, for obvious reasons, were not considered. Perhaps, in connection with this, the patent of Lockheed Martin was once noticed by experts, but did not cause a stir. At that time, the American aircraft industry was developing new versions of aircraft, and far from all the original proposals were going through a theoretical development stage. The existence of a patent, in turn, did not guarantee the further development of ideas. As a result, there was no point in the hype around each new sentence.
Unlike other not the most successful developments, the look of a drone from the Des Des patent. 382851 was adopted for further study and, as it turned out, led to the emergence of a full-fledged aircraft. According to various sources, the project, now known as X-44A, was developed at the turn of the nineties and the two thousandth. Approximately in 2000-2001, Lockheed-Martin built at least one prototype of an experimental machine. With it, apparently, it was supposed to study the behavior of the "flying wing" of the proposed type and work out the on-board equipment capable of operating such a machine.
According to some sources, the first flight of an experienced X-44A took place already in 2001. Then, for some time, the drone had to participate in a variety of tests, during which performed certain flight tasks. Apparently, the take-off and landing, flight along a given route, etc. were practiced. There is every reason to believe that the machine was controlled by the operator via radio or using the autopilot. Whether the experienced UAV could operate completely autonomously is unknown.
According to various sources, specialists from Skunk Works and the military experienced an experimental apparatus, at least until the middle of the last decade. Various checks and experiments allowed to collect a large amount of data on the work of an unmanned "flying wing", suitable for use in new projects. It is believed that the result of further development of the proposed ideas was the Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel UAV. This device is intended for aerial reconnaissance and carries the appropriate equipment. Information about the shock potential of such a machine is not available. The operation of the RQ-170 began no earlier than 2007-2009.
It should be noted that most of the technical details of the RQ-170 project are still unknown. However, officials and unnamed sources in the American aviation industry have already managed to announce some interesting information. It is possible that some of the technologies used in the development and construction of Sentinel were proposed, studied and developed during the X-44A project.
According to known data, during the development of the RQ-170, a set of measures was adopted aimed at reducing the radar, infrared and optical visibility of the vehicle during the flight. There is reason to believe that the so-called. Stealth technologies affecting the airframe design were developed on the experienced X-44A. Also, the latter could become a flying laboratory for testing and improving control systems, payload, etc.
As an argument in favor of the version of the continuity of the two projects, we can accept the fact that the RQ-170 is similar to the double and slightly modified copy of the X-44A. All design changes, respectively, are associated with the need to obtain the desired technical and flight characteristics, as well as with the installation of one or another target equipment. In particular, the difference in size should be related to the required growth of basic parameters, such as flight range or payload mass.
It is possible that the developments on X-44A have already found application in other new projects. For obvious reasons, the next samples of unmanned aircraft, built on such ideas, can still remain classified, and therefore only a narrow circle of designers and military leaders now know about them. However, one should not be surprised if the American army shows a new UAV, very similar to the experimental Lohkid Martin machine.
A few days ago, the company Lockheed Martin for the first time publicly showed an experimental UAV X-44A. The main part of the information was not disclosed again, but even in the appearance of the car, it was possible to draw some conclusions and assumptions that would very seriously complement the existing picture. First of all, it was possible to notice the differences of the real aircraft from the design described in the patent of twenty years ago.
At the Los Angeles County Air Show, a “flying wing” was shown with a span of about 10 m and a total length of less than 3 m. The parking height can be estimated at 1,5 m. Other geometric or weight parameters were not specified. Similarly, they did not announce the performance of the aircraft, the composition of the equipment, etc.
It seems that the shapes and contours of the real UAV corresponded to the appearance proposed in the 1997 patent of the year. In particular, the wing configuration remained the same. The fuselage slightly protruding from the center-section was redesigned, although it retained some of its former outlines. The layout was probably not changed either.
The appearance of the prototype showed that the lining of the airframe formed by several large panels. Probably used parts made of plastics or composite materials, which allowed to reduce radar visibility. In the large plating panels, there were numerous hatches of various shapes and sizes, with the help of which technicians could gain access to the internal equipment of the drone. The openings were closed figured lids of the same material as the skin.
The previously proposed form of the wing with a pair of control planes on each console was retained. Characteristic trapezoidal devices at the junction of the center section and consoles suggest that the latter could be removed for transportation. Elevons were used for control, performing the functions of all necessary steering wheels and providing control in three channels.
An experienced X-44A received a turbojet engine of small size and sufficient power. The model of the power plant is unknown, but the Williams engine logo was present on the skin of the vehicle. On the basis of these data, it has already been suggested that a F112 type turbofan engine will be used. This product develops traction up to 330 kg and is used on some American cruise missiles. The parameters of this engine would be quite sufficient for the flight of a relatively compact and lightweight UAV.
The air supply to the engine was carried out through the air intake on the upper part of the nose of the fuselage. This device has received even edges at an angle to each other. The large "hump" of the fuselage in the tail section had a triangular section, there was an engine nozzle. As with some other subtle American-made aircraft, the nozzle was placed above the trailing edge of the “flying wing”.
The drone was equipped with a three-point chassis with nose support. Racks with their own depreciation set hard, without the possibility of cleaning. As a result, on the bottom there were no hatches provided for by the patented project.
The composition of the onboard equipment X-44A is unknown. With some confidence we can only talk about the use of certain means of observation and control system with the transfer of commands over the air. In the forward part of the fuselage, below the plane of the wing, there was a protruding casing with a front window of complex shape. Probably, they placed optic-electronic devices under it. To the right of such a casing was installed a tubular bar with sensors placed outside the wing.
The design of the shown drone X-44A clearly indicates the experimental nature of the project. The small size, the corresponding weight and the fixed chassis make it possible to consider this device as a technology demonstrator or a flying laboratory for working out certain ideas. The development of US unmanned aircraft in the recent past, in turn, hints that X-44A was directly related to the RQ-170 project and other devices of similar configuration.
The tail of the rudimentary fuselage. One can see a triangular nozzle of the engine, placed over the edge of the wing
Unfortunately, aviation lovers from around the world, the company "Lockheed-Martin" only showed the once top-secret aircraft, but did not delve into its history and clarify technical details. However, such events do not happen too often to pick and choose aircraft manufacturers for the lack of detailed information. In addition, it can be expected that in the foreseeable future the company-developer will announce any new information of historical or technical interest.
The Lockheed Martin X-44A pilotless unmanned aerial vehicle was developed in an atmosphere of secrecy and was designed to work out technologies suitable for use in new projects of special equipment. As a result, for many years the general public knew almost nothing about this development and could not fully appreciate it. Nevertheless, the developer still decided to show an interesting sample at a public event, open to all comers.
The situation around the X-44A UAV is unlikely to suit all historians and aviation enthusiasts. However, there are positive points in it. The company Lockheed Martin has officially confirmed the existence of the project X-44A, and also showed a prototype of this model. By this, she closed one of the many "white spots" in the history of modern American aviation. For obvious reasons, many developments in recent years and decades still cannot be shown to the public, but they are all of great interest. Sooner or later, the customer and the developer still decide to show them to the public, as it was recently with an experienced X-44A.