My former colleague Guy Norris has a story in Aviation Week about Northrop Grumman’s future airlifter work with the US Air Force Research Laboratory. I can’t link to his story, but here’s the gist:
Northrop is proposing a tailless flying wing with powered-lift system for AFRL’s Speed Agile technology demonstration to refine the concept of a STOL transport to replace the C-130 towards the end of next decade. AFRL is looking for a design able to combine a take-off distance under 2,000ft with a cruise speed over Mach 0.8 – while carrying a 30t payload.
As you can see, Northrop’s concept looks like a cross between its X-47B unmanned combat aircraft and Boeing’s X-48B blended wing body. A flying wing offers aerodynamic and structural efficiency, and plenty of internal volume for payload, fuel, engines and systems. But does a transport need to be tailless?
Stealth is an obvious reason. But Northrop says there are other benefits: lower drag for higher cruise speeds; and no downforce to reduce lift during extremely short landings. There are also challenges – low-speed control, particularly when the blown flaps are boosting lift for STOL. But Northrop, which has pretty much banished tails from its aircraft, thinks it has the answers.
It would make for an interesting progression in tailless flying-wing design, from the lumbering B-2 bomber to the carrier-landing X-47B UCAS-D to an extreme-STOL airlifter. And Northrop isn’t staying subsonic in its crusade to eradicate tails. It is waiting to hear if DARPA will give the go-ahead to its Oblique Flying Wing supersonic demonstrator (below, left) and has been working with AFRL on its Supersonic Tailless Air Vehicle concept (right).