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Northrop studies future USAF lift

GRAHAM WARWICK / WASHINGTON DC
Manufacturer wins $1.4 million contract to develop AMC-X tanker/transport technology for 2012 demonstration

Northrop Grumman is moving into the airlift arena, winning one of two contracts to mature technology for a future tanker/transport aircraft that is to combine short take-off and landing (STOL) and high subsonic speed.

AMC-X W445
© AFRL

AMC-X will have to incorporate STOL and high subsonic speed

The company has won a $1.4 million US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) contract for the Integrated Propulsion, Lift and Control (IPLC) programme. Lockheed Martin has also received a contract, following a previous study phase that also involved Boeing.

The IPLC project focuses on a high-lift system that tightly couples propulsion, aerodynamics and flight control. The initiative forms part of the AFRL’s Multi-Mission Mobility programme, which aims to develop technology for the AMC-X future transport concept now being studied by the USAF. The AMC-X is a family of aircraft, with next-generation strike tanker, special operations and gunship variants, that could begin replacing the Lockheed C-130 Hercules some time between 2015 and 2025.

AMC-X is envisaged as being larger than the C-130, able to carry armoured vehicles such as Stryker, but able to take off and land in similar or shorter distances.

It should also be capable of cruising faster than the Boeing C-17, at speeds comparable with commercial airliners. “The wide speed range is the real challenge,” says Charlie Guthrie, director of advanced capabilities development for Northrop’s Integrated Systems sector.

“We are picking up where the YC-14 and YC-15 left off and taking it a step further,” says Scott Collins, director of future tactical systems. This is Northrop’s first public foray into the airlift arena. “We are pressing hard to expand our portfolio,” says Guthrie, who believes the company has a “unique and clever” design using an embedded and integrated propulsive lift system.

“The emphasis of IPLC is on low speed, and a follow-on phase will look at high speed, but we had to show our solution enables both,” says Collins.

The AFRL is working towards a flight demonstration around 2012. To run until September 2007, the current phase includes studies and windtunnel tests.

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