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.
The new 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, including airdrop.
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.