DARPA’s Next-gen Flying Wing Drone X-Plane Is Set To Fly This Year

The latest drone invention from DARPA is the XRQ-73, a long-range hybrid electric drone that looks like a tiny B-21 bomber.

Newly designated an official X-plane, this state-of-the-art aircraft is a part of the Series Hybrid Electric Propulsion Aircraft Demonstration (SHEPARD) program. Designed for extended endurance and great stealth, the XRQ-73 is not only an unmanned aircraft with hybrid-electric propulsion but can also carry a sizable payload deep into hostile territory.

Under the direction of Northrop Grumman, a team built the XRQ-73, an enhanced version of the Great Horned Owl (GHO) program funded by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA). The XRQ-73 is categorized as a Group 3 drone with a maximum weight of 1,250 lb (567 kg) and a top speed of 250 knots (287 mph, 463 km/h), in contrast to the GHO, which weighed about 400 lb (180 kg).

The XRQ-73’s electric engines are located inside the fuselage rather than atop four pods at the back, giving it a more streamlined flying wing design. This design maximizes its aerodynamics while also improving stealth capabilities. Within 20 months, the SHEPARD program hopes to advance GHO technology and quickly get the XRQ-73 into service.

The SHEPARD program manager, Steve Komadina, outlined the program’s objectives: “The idea behind a DARPA X-prime program is to take emerging technologies and burn down system-level integration risks to quickly mature a new missionized long endurance aircraft design that can be fielded quickly.”

“The SHEPARD program is maturing a specific propulsion architecture and power class as an exemplar of potential benefits for the Department of Defense,” he added.

Source: DARPA

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