Unmanned aircraft specialist Aurora Flight Systems is to challenge Lockheed Martin in the airlift arena after both were selected to design the all-composite cargo X-plane. One of the companies could go on to build and fly a demonstrator within 18 months under the US Air Force Research Laboratory's Advanced Composite Cargo Aircraft (ACCA) programme.

The ACCA will demonstrate structural design and manufacturing technologies to significantly reduce the weight and cost of a future military transport, and supports the Advanced Joint Air Combat System now in requirements definition within the USAF's Air Mobility Command as a future replacement for the Lockheed C-130 tactical transport.

Both Aurora and Lockheed's Skunk Works have been awarded initial five-month design contracts leading to a downselect to build a single demonstrator. The ACCA is a notional advanced short take-off and landing light transport capable of 400kt (740km/h), pressurised and carrying three cargo pallets, 20 troops or a light-wheeled vehicle.

If selected to build the X-plane, it will be Manassas, Virginia-based Aurora's first manned aircraft and will use its experience of building composite unmanned air vehicles. "Today we are a UAV company, but as UAVs move from the fringe to the mainstream most new ideas will get proved out in the robotic space then move into broader aerospace," says president John Langford.

"ACCA will use our rapid prototyping and composites experience and is an opportunity to explore potential applications of UAV technologies," he says. Neither company has revealed its design, but Langford says Aurora plans to incorporate new propulsion and flight control concepts.

Langford believes the ACCA demonstrator design could find future application as a next-generation follow-on to the US Army/Air Force Joint Cargo Aircraft.

Source: Flight International