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Europe and USA hold thrust-vectoring talks

Guy Norris/LOS ANGELESAndrzej Jeziorski/MUNICH

EUROPE AND THE USA are seeking to co-operate on future thrust-vectoring research. Industry and defence officials from both sides were expected to open talks at the Berlin International Aerospace Exhibition (ILA), which started on 13 May.

The discussions could include European participation in the US supersonic-tailless-research (STAR) programme. The Daimler-Benz Aerospace/Rockwell team which led the transatlantic X-31 enhanced-fighter-manoeuvrability project will be at Berlin along with German and US Government officials for a German Aerospace Society award ceremony to honour the programme.

Programme sources say that detailed talks on follow-on vectored-thrust programmes will be held. The UK and Sweden may also be involved.

Germany has long been keen on furthering the achievements of the X-31 programme, which included preliminary investigations into tailless flight, but has been stumped by tight budgets.

The STAR was revealed in late April as a planned development of the thrust-vectoring-equipped McDonnell Douglas F-15 research effort.

The European companies are believed to want to gather technology for possible future thrust-vectoring, quasi-tailless variants of the Eurofighter 2000 and the Saab JAS39 Gripen, as well as all-new designs.

"There is suddenly a lot of interest," says Dennis Weiland, US Air Force Wright Laboratory deputy programme manager for the Advanced Control Technology for Integrated Vehicles (ACTIVE) programme, of which the STAR will form a part. Discussions have been restricted to "fact-finding" to date, says Weiland.

The STAR effort forms the third phase of the ACTIVE programme, which is exploring the potential use of thrust vectoring to reduce cruise drag and increase range and payload, as well as improving aircraft manoeuvrability.

The ultimate aim of the programme is to prove that thrust-vectoring propulsion could be used to replace vertical fins and rudders, providing greater design freedom for future aircraft. The "tailless" aircraft would be structurally lighter and more stealthy.

The STAR project is due to begin in mid-1998 (Flight International, 1-7 May), and will get under way with a "quasi-tailless" phase when the F-15's twin vertical tails will be reduced in size by 50%.

The ACTIVE team includes Pratt & Whitney, NASA, McDonnell Douglas and the USAF.