NASA funds continued development of D8 airliner concept

NASA funds continued development of D8 airliner concept

Aurora’s subsonic D8 X-Plane (XD8, top) and D8 commercial aircraft (bottom) concept.

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October 24, 2017

Aurora Flight Sciences of Manassas, Virginia, has been awarded a 12-month contract from NASA for continued development of the company's subsonic D8 X-Plane (XD8). The XD8 is designed to demonstrate the key enabling technologies of the D8 commercial aircraft concept, which could yield substantial fuel, noise, and operational efficiency improvements within the next decade.

The objective of the competitively awarded contract is to assist NASA in reducing the risk and cost of future X-Plane procurements through the design of critical building block tests that will precede the XD8 first flight. This contract will simultaneously mature the XD8 aircraft along three dimensions. First, XD8 aerodynamics will be further developed through the design of a transonic wind tunnel test. Second, the readiness of the boundary layer ingesting (BLI) propulsion system will be advanced via the design of a transonic BLI fan test. Lastly, the complex propulsion-airframe structural integration will be matured through the design of a large-scale structural test article.

The D8 evolved from Aurora's early work on the NASA N+3 Program. In 2009, a combined team of Aurora, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Pratt & Whitney was awarded a contract to study technologies and designs for transport-class aircraft that could enter service during the 2030s. The D8 has since gone through two wind tunnel test campaigns, and the XD8 has completed both a system requirements review (SRR) and concept design review (CoDR). Aurora will continue to work with this same team during the current program.

In 2016 NASA launched the New Aviation Horizons X-Plane Initiative, one part of which is the Ultra-Efficient Subsonic Flight Demonstrator program.

On Oct. 5, 2017, Boeing officials announced plans to acquire Aurora Flight Sciences Corp. under an agreement signed by both companies. The press release noted that Aurora specializes in autonomous systems technologies to enable advanced robotic aircraft for future aerospace applications and vehicles.

"The combined strength and innovation of our teams will advance the development of autonomy for our commercial and military systems," said Greg Hyslop, chief technology officer and senior vice president of Boeing Engineering, Test & Technology. "Together, these talented teams will open new markets with transformational technologies."

Leveraging autonomous systems that include perception, machine learning, and advanced flight control systems, Aurora has designed, produced, and flown more than 30 unmanned air vehicles since the company was founded in 1989. During the last decade, Aurora has collaborated with Boeing on the rapid prototyping of innovative aircraft and structural assemblies for both military and commercial applications.

Aurora Flight Sciences is also involved in the emerging field of electric propulsion for aircraft.