Northrop Grumman is confirming it has built the experimental XRQ-73 hybrid-electric flying-wing the company has been developing under a secretive US military project.

The Virginia-based aerospace manufacturer on 10 July said it has now “designed and built” the Pentagon’s unmanned Series Hybrid Electric Propulsion Aircraft Demonstration, also known as SHEPARD and designed as the XRQ-73.

The secretive US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is leading the project, confirms the progress. ”Northrop Grumman has completed construction of the XRQ-73 demonstrator and the aircraft is undergoing ground testing,” DARPA says. ”Flight tests will begin near the end of this calendar year.”

Northrop released an image of the XRQ-73 but has disclosed few details about the aircraft or the development project.

Northrop XRQ-73

Source: Northrop Grumman

Northrop Grumman on 10 July 2024 released this image of the flying wing it is developing for the Pentagon

“Northrop Grumman is working with DARPA to develop emerging technologies in hybrid-electric propulsion for the SHEPARD uncrewed demonstrator,” Northrop says. “We’re excited for what this system represents for military operations, along with the fuel savings that hybrid-electric propulsion provides, as we continue to prepare for a first flight later this year.”

Last month, DARPA gave the aircraft its XRQ-73 designation.

Northrop says the development programme uses “hybrid-electric architecture and component technologies to quickly mature a new mission-focused aircraft design with propulsion architecture and power class for the Department of Defense”.

The XRQ-73 weighs 567kg (1,250lb) and is classified as a “Class 3” unmanned aircraft system, a category encompassing aircraft capable of flying at speeds up to 250kt (463km/h) and at 18,000ft altitude, according to US military documents.

Northrop’s Aeronautical Systems division, based in Redondo Beach, California, is the project’s prime contractor. It is collaborating on the project with Scaled Composites, a Northrop subsidiary based in Mojave, California.

Other suppliers include Ohio-based defence contractor Cornerstone Research Group, New Hampshire hybrid-electric turbo-machinery developer Brayton Energy, Indiana electromechanical-system specialist PC Krause and Associates, and St Louis battery producer EaglePicher Technologies.

Story updated on 10 July to include comments from DARPA.

XRQ-73

Source: DARPA

DARPA in June released this image of the XRQ-73