Daimler-Benz Aerospace (Dasa) says that Government financing for the trinational VECTOR follow-on to the X-31 Enhanced Fighter Manoeuvrability programme is now secure, and a final go-ahead is expected later this year.
"The financing questions have been resolved, and the partners are now in programme planning activities," says project leader Peter Huber. The programme is divided equally between the USA, Germany and Sweden, with the USA taking system leadership.
Germany is focusing on developing a new "flush" air data system for the aircraft, and Dasa is already carrying out windtunnel tests on a preliminary laboratory model.
Huber says that the aim is to develop a system in which the sensors are flush with the aircraft's skin, which has no mechanical components and remains functional throughout VECTOR's flight envelope - from supersonic to low subsonic speeds at high angles of incidence, as well as into the post-stall regime.
Work on the laboratory model began last year, and the project team will begin to develop a fully functional system for the VECTOR programme as soon as the project is given the official go-ahead.
Sweden is focusing on the thrust vectoring system, hoping to power the aircraft with the 80.5kN (18,500lb) thrust Volvo Aero RM12. The engine was developed for the Saab Gripen fighter from the General Electric F404 that powered the X-31 in its first test programme, which ended in 1995. The thrust vectoring nozzle will be based on GE's axisymmetric vectoring engine nozzle.
The US side, led by Boeing, will look at the tailless aspects of the programme. Once the flight trials begin, the aircraft's tail will be progressively reduced in size until it can be eliminated completely from the design, offering potential weight savings and stealth benefits for future combat aircraft.
Early quasi-tailless trials had already been carried out on the X-31 towards the end of the original programme. The aircraft still has half of its useful airframe life left.