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X-31 to fly again under tri-national MoU

Germany, Sweden and the USA are planning to launch the second phase of the X-31 experimental aircraft programme which will focus on using vectored thrust to improve take-off and landing performance.

The German and US governments have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to start work on the thrust vectoring extremely short take-off and landing, tailless operations research (VECTOR) project. Sweden is expected to agree to participation.

The X-31, which has been in storage for four years at NASA's Dryden flight test centre, could be flying again by early next year. The aircraft has been moved to Boeing's Palmdale facility for restoration.

US participation in the VECTOR project will be led by the US Navy, which is interested in using the technology for aircraft-carrier operations. The US work will focus on integrating the engine nozzle. DaimlerChrysler Aerospace (Dasa) of Germany and Sweden's Saab Aircraft and Volvo Aero are also taking part.

Dasa says the technology demonstrated during VECTOR research could be transferred into existing as well as future high-performance military aircraft. A short take-off and landing capability is of greater interest to the air forces than extreme manoeuvrability, says Dasa Military Aircraft division president Aloysius Rauen.

The successful first phase of the X-31 programme, carried out by Dasa and Rockwell (since acquired by Boeing), focused on horizontal manoeuvres at extremely high angles of attack, utilising three-dimensional thrust vectoring.

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