US AFRL seeks global airlifter concepts

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US industry has been canvassed for concepts for an advanced long-range transport that could be an eventual replacement for the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy. The US Air Force Research Laboratory has issued a request for information on the feasibility of building and flying a full-scale technology demonstrator.

"This is not a programme. We are just canvassing industry so that we can get the technologies organised and demonstrated to support a next-generation large airlifter," says the AFRL's Barth Shenk.

The AFRL does not yet know what concepts the RFI will produce, although previous global-range transport studies have involved blended wing-body and high aspect-ratio braced-wing designs. "We will see what the RFI responses bring," says Shenk.

The RFI calls for an affordable aircraft with superior payload-range-speed relative to the C-5B simultaneous roll-on/roll-off loading from front and rear and comparable or superior short-field performance. "We see it being used in expeditionary operations in areas with little infrastructure," says Shenk.

The emphasis is on advanced aerodynamics and structures, and the flight demonstrator would focus on aero-structural technologies. "We need to find a way we can build it so we can afford it," he says. The RFI calls for a plan to go from demonstrator design to flight in 36 months.

Shenk says the RFI responses will be used to lay out an investment plan for technologies that need maturing. The AFRL has a similar effort already under way for an advanced tactical transport, aiming towards an X-plane fly-off around 2015. Under that programme, Lockheed Martin is building an advanced composite cargo aircraft technology demonstrator.