The Pentagon’s secretive technology incubator has designated a new experimental aircraft: the unmanned XRQ-73.

The flying-wing aircraft, about which little has been announced, was previously labelled as the Series Hybrid Electric Propulsion Aircraft, or SHEPARD, according to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).


Source: DARPA

The XRQ-73 builds on previous work to extend the range of ISR UAVs

The aircraft weighs about 567kg (1,250lb) and the first flight is expected by the end of 2024.

An image provided by DARPA shows a stealthy, flying-wing design with two jet intakes on the top of the fuselage.

“The idea behind a DARPA X-prime programme is to take emerging technologies and burn down system-level integration risks to quickly mature a new missionised long endurance aircraft design that can be fielded quickly,” says SHEPARD programme manager Steve Komadina.

“The SHEPARD programme is maturing a specific propulsion architecture and power class as an exemplar of potential benefits for the Department of Defense.”

The XRQ-73 programme builds on the hybrid-electric architecture and other technologies from the Great Horned Owl (GHO) project.

GHO was undertaken by the Air Force Research Laboratory and the US intelligence community. The programme aimed to develop technologies to increase the range and payload of unmanned air vehicles performing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

The prime contractor for the XRQ-73 is Northrop Grumman.