Over the years aviation companies, driven by unusual design
briefs from government organizations like NASA and the
Military, have produced some rather peculiar aircraft.
However the X-Wing from the 1980s is one of the most bizarre.
The aircraft's full name is the Rotor Systems Research
Aircraft (RSRA) X-Wing, but we'll just stick with X-Wing.
The program started back in the 1970s as part of a research
project to try and increase the speed, reliability, comfort
and safety of helicopters. Essentially it sought to combine
the vertical lift and hovering capabilities of a helicopter
with the higher cruising speed of a fixed-wing aircraft.
Sikorsky Aircraft Division of United Technologies Laboratories
were commissioned to build two X-Wing prototypes, which
they did, before sending them to Langley Research Center
for initial evaluation. Soon after the aircraft were moved
to the NASA Ames Research Center in California for more
in-depth testing by both NASA and the US Army.
These tests, flown by Ames pilot G. Warren Hall and Army
Major (soon promoted to Lt. Col.) Patrick Morris, began
in May and continued until October 1984, when the X-Wing
returned to Ames.
Using data from the 1984 flights, the engineers at Sikorsky
developed the second aircraft to provide in-flight investigation
and verification of new helicopter rotor-system concepts
and supporting technology. The X-Wing could be configured
to fly as an airplane with fixed wings, as a helicopter,
or as a compound vehicle that could transition between
the two configurations.
The modified X-Wing aircraft was delivered to Ames-Dryden
by Sikorsky Aircraft on 25 September 1986. Following taxi
tests, initial flights in the aircraft mode without main
rotors attached took place at Dryden in December 1987.
Ames research pilot G. Warren Hall and Sikorskys
W. Richard Faull were the pilots. The contract with Sikorsky
ended that month, and the program ended in January 1988.
Considering the huge potential for the X-Wing and the
wide range of roles it could have fulfilled, it's amazing
and quite unfortunate that the project was never taken
any further than the prototype stage.