Home > Strange Vehicles > X-36 Tailless Fighter Agility Research Aircraft

The X-36 was a prototype aircraft tested and flown by NASA in 1997. The X-36 was a 28 percent scale model aircraft which was remotely piloted from the ground. I suppose you could say it was the mother of all r/c aircraft.

The X-36 was developed to help test and prove the theory of tailless aircraft design. The design used advanced technologies to improve the maneuverability and survivability of possible future fighter aircraft.

The X-36 was designed to fly without the traditional tail surfaces common on most aircraft. Instead, a canard forward of the wing was used as well as split ailerons and an advanced thrust-vectoring nozzle for directional control. The X-36 was unstable in both pitch and yaw axes, so an advanced, single-channel digital fly-by-wire control system (developed with some commercially available components) was put in place to stabilize the aircraft.

Using a video camera mounted in the nose of the aircraft and an onboard microphone, the X-36 was remotely controlled by a pilot in a ground station virtual cockpit. A standard fighter-type head-up display (HUD) and a moving-map representation of the vehicle's position within the range in which it flew provided excellent situational awareness for the pilot. The use of a human pilot eliminated the need for expensive and complex autonomous flight control systems and the risks associated with their inability to deal with unexpected situations.

The X-36 was considerably smaller than a piloted version would have been. The wingspan was a mere 3 meters (10 ft) and fully fueled it weighed in at 566 kgs (1,250 lbs). Top speed was 234 mph.

In total the X-36 made 31 flights, and accrued 15 hours and 38 minutes of flight time. The maximum altitude achieved was 6,157 meters (20,200 ft). NASA considered the X-36 program highly successful as it met or exceeded all project goals.

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