The US Air
Force is embarking on the development of a future transport
aircraft to be manufactured from composite materials. By October
2009, the Air Force plans to test fly the Advanced Composite
Cargo Aircraft (ACCA) - a new X-plane to be built primarily
from composite materials, featuring advanced structural design
and aerodynamics. The aircraft will enable the Air Force to
evaluate the manufacturing techniques required for this ambitious
project. For the industry, the program will demonstrate the
capability to economically and profitably maintain low-rate,
low-volume production lines. The new concept is expected to
break current paradigms of vehicle cost as related to weight.
X-plane should be sufficiently large to carry modern and future
generation military vehicles and be able to operate in all environments.
It will be configured for rapid loading and unloading of cargo,
The aircraft will validate light weight, lower cost structural
concepts that could be used in future military transports. It
will be manufactured primarily from advanced materials for weight
reduction and surface smoothness. The use of advanced materials
is also designed to reduce life cycle cost, offering reduced
corrosion and elimination of fatigue damage. Use of production-ready
techniques, suitable for affordable low unit rate and low total
unit production, the aircraft is expected to utilize off-the-shelf
technology such as engines, avionics and flight control equipment.
The Air Force awarded two contracts to Lockheed Martin and
Aurora Flight Sciences, The Air Force is expected for concept
development (phase 1). Within 6 months, AFRL will downselect
the contractor for the program, to develop and build the aircraft
and conduct flight testing under a follow-on $46 million (Phase
2) contract. The aircraft will be certified and flown under
an FAA experimental aircraft airworthiness certificate.
“ACCA will allow us to combine our experience in rapid
prototyping, composite manufacturing, and advanced UAV technologies
to provide the Air Force with a state of the art, all-composite,
advanced cargo transport,” said Aurora President John
Langford. Aurora plans to build the aircraft in its newly opened
facility at the Golden Triangle Regional Airport in Columbus,
Mississippi. Aurora’s other facilities in Virginia, West
Virginia, and Massachusetts will all support the project.