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X-Wing Research Vehicle X-Wing Research Vehicle

Photo Number: EC86-33555-2
Photo Date: 1986

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One of the most unusual experimental flight vehicles appearing at NASA's Ames-Dryden Flight Research Facility (later redesignated Dryden Flight Research Center) in the 1980s was the Rotor Systems Research Aircraft (RSRA) X-Wing aircraft, seen here on the ramp. The craft was developed originally and then modified by Sikorsky Aircraft for a joint NASA-Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program and was rolled out 19 August 1986. Taxi tests and initial low-altitude flight tests without the main rotor attached were carried out at Dryden before the program was terminated in 1988.


The unusual aircraft that resulted from the Ames Research Center/Army X-Wing Project was flown at the Ames-Dryden Flight Research Facility (now Dryden Flight Research Center), Edwards, California, beginning in the spring of 1984, with a follow-on program beginning in 1986. The program, was conceived to provide an efficient combination of the vertical lift characteristic of conventional helicopters and the high cruise speed of fixed-wing aircraft. It consisted of a hybrid vehicle called the NASA/Army Rotor Systems Research Aircraft (RSRA), which was equipped with advanced X-wing rotor systems.

The program began in the early 1970s to investigate ways to increase the speed of rotor aircraft, as well as their performance, reliability, and safety. It also sought to reduce the noise, vibration, and maintenance costs of helicopters. Sikorsky Aircraft Division of United Technologies Laboratories built two RSRA aircraft. NASA’s Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia, did some initial testing and transferred the program to Ames Research Center, Mountain View, California, for an extensive flight research program conducted by Ames and the Army.

The purpose of the 1984 tests was to demonstrate the fixed-wing capability of the helicopter/airplane hybrid research vehicle and explore its flight envelope and flying qualities. These tests, flown by Ames pilot G. Warren Hall and Army Maj (soon promoted to Lt. Col.) Patrick Morris, began in May and continued until October 1984, when the RSRA vehicle returned to Ames. The project manager at Dryden for the flights was Wen Painter. These early tests were preparatory for a future X-Wing rotor flight test project to be sponsored by NASA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and Sikorsky Aircraft.

A later derivative X-Wing flew in 1987. The modified RSRA was developed to provide a vehicle for in-flight investigation and verification of new helicopter rotor-system concepts and supporting technology. The RSRA 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. NASA and DARPA selected Sikorsky in 1984 to convert one of the original RSRAs to the new demonstrator aircraft for the X-Wing concept.

Developers of X-Wing technology did not view the X-Wing as a replacement for either helicopters (rotor aircraft) or fixed-wing aircraft. Instead, they envisioned it as an aircraft with special enhanced capabilities to perform missions that call for the low-speed efficiency and maneuverability of helicopters combined with the high cruise speed of fixed-wing aircraft. Some such missions include air-to-air and air-to-ground tactical operations, airborne early warning, electronic intelligence, antisubmarine warfare, and search and rescue.

The follow-on X-Wing project was managed by James W. Lane, chief of the RSRA/X-Wing Project Office, Ames Research Center. Coordinating the Ames-Dryden flight effort in 1987 was Jack Kolf. The X-Wing project was a joint effort of NASA-Ames, DARPA, the U.S. Army, and Sikorsky Aircraft, Stratford, Connecticut. 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 1997. Ames research pilot G. Warren Hall and Sikorsky’s W. Richard Faull were the pilots. The contract with Sikorsky ended that month, and the program ended in January 1988.

NASA Photo by: NASA

Keywords: X-Wing; RSRA; Ames Research Center; Ames-Dryden Flight Research Facility; Dryden Flight Research Center; Langley Research Center; Sikorsky Aircraft; DARPA; Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; James W. Lane; Jack Kolf; Wen Painter; G. Warren Hall; W. Richard Faull; Patrick Morris

Last Modified: September 11, 2002
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