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NASA X-29 Forward Swept Wings Demonstrator
                                      

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X-29 FSW Demonstrator

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The X-29 is a single-engine aircraft 48.1 feet long. Its forward-swept wing has a span ofthree 27.2 feet. Each X-29 was powered by a General Electric F404-GE-400 engine producing 16,000 pounds of thrust. Empty weight was 13,600 pounds, while takeoff weight was 17,600 pounds.

The aircraft had a maximum operating altitude of 50,000 feet, a maximum speed of Mach 1.6, and a flight endurance time of approximately one hour. The only significant difference between the two aircraft was an emergency spin chute deployment system mounted at the base of the rudder on aircraft No. 2. External wing structure is primarily composite materials incorporated into precise patterns to develop strength and avoid structural divergence. The wing substructure and the basic airframe itself is aluminum and titanium. Wing trailing edge actuators controlling camber are mounted externally in streamlined fairings because of the thinness of the supercritical airfoil.

Two X-29 aircraft, featuring one of the most unusual designs in aviation history, were flown at the NASA Ames-Dryden Flight Research Facility (soon to be renamed the Dryden Flight Research Center), Edwards, Calif., as technology demonstrators to investigate advanced concepts and technologies. The multi-phased program was conducted from 1984 to 1992 and provided an engineering data base that is available in the design and development of future aircraft.

The X-29 almost looked like it was flying backward. Its forward swept wings were mounted well back on the fuselage, while its canards horizontal stabilizers to control pitch were in front of the wings instead of on the tail. The complex geometries of the wings and canards combined to provide exceptional maneuverability, supersonic performance, and a light structure. Air moving over the forward-swept wings tended to flow inward toward the root of the wing instead of outward toward the wing tip as occurs on an aft swept wing. This reverse air flow did not allow the wing tips and their ailerons to stall (lose lift) at high angles of attack (direction of the fuselage relative to the air flow).

The concepts and technologies the fighter-size X-29 explored were the use of advanced composites in aircraft construction; variable camber wing surfaces; the unique forward-swept wing and its thin supercritical airfoil; strake flaps; close-coupled canards; and a computerized fly-by-wire flight control system to maintain control of the otherwise unstable aircraft.

Research results showed that the configuration of forward swept wings, coupled with movable canards, gave pilots excellent control response at up to 45 degrees angle of attack. During its flight history, the X-29's were flown on 422 research missions 242 by aircraft No. 1 in the Phase 1 portion of the program; 120 flights by aircraft No. 2 in Phase 2; and 60 flights in a follow-on "vortex control" phase. An additional 12 non-research flights with X29 No. 1 and 2 non-research flights with X-29 No. 2 raised the total number of flights with the two aircraft to 436.

graphic showing reverse airflow with X-29 aircraft

Reverse airflow-forward-swept wing vs aft swept wing. On the forward-swept wing, ailerons remained unstalled at high angles of attack because the air over the forward swept wing tended to flow inward toward the root of the wing rather than outward toward the wing tip as on an aft-swept wing. This provided better airflow over the ailerons and prevented stalling (loss of lift) at high angles of attack.

The flight control surfaces on the X-29 were the forward-mounted canards, which shared the lifting load with the wings and provided primary pitch control; the wing flaperons (combination flaps and ailerons), used to change wing camber and function as ailerons for roll control when used asymmetrically; and the strake flaps on each side of the rudder that augmented the canards with pitch control. The control surfaces were linked electronically to a triple-redundant digital fly-by-wire flight control system (with analog back up) that provided an artificial stability.

 

The particular forward swept wing, close-coupled canard design used on the X-29 was unstable. The X-29's flight control system compensated for this instability by sensing flight conditions such as attitude and speed, and through computer processing, continually adjusted the control surfaces with up to 40 commands each second. This arrangement was made to reduce drag. Conventionally configured aircraft achieved stability by balancing lift loads on the wing with opposing downward loads on the tail at the cost of drag. The X-29 avoided this drag penalty through its relaxed static stability.

 

Each of the three digital flight control computers had an analog backup. If one of the digital computers failed, the remaining two took over. If two of the digital computers failed, the flight control system switched to the analog mode. If one of the analog computers failed, the two remaining analog computers took over. The risk of total systems failure was equivalent in the X-29 to the risk of mechanical failure in a conventional system.

Information Source: FAS.org

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