Airbus unveils 6th generation combat aircraft concept design

November 5.  Unveiled this morning for the first time, Airbus revealed some basic details of a classified program that will feed into the endeavour to replace the Eurofighter Typhoon around 2040.  Because of the classified status of the program, individual photography was not permitted – but the design is a diamond-shaped, spear head platform that bears some similarity to Northrop Grumman’s X-47A Pegasus test bed.

The super stealthy shape was arrived at in an effort to greatly reduce all relevant signatures – radar, infra red, visual and acoustic.  The tailless aircraft concept features concealed air intakes at the leading edges of the wing – and the engine outlet is flat, wide and sits at the top of the airframe.  It is also designed to allow thrust vectoring.  All aerials are conformal, and the cockpit bulge is extremely smooth and likewise blends seamlessly with the airframe.

The model is 12 metres by 12 metres and therefore is close to a 1:1 representation of an actual combat aircraft.  Sitting inside an 80 metre long, 15 metre high anechoic test chamber, the model weighs 4 tonnes and includes features such as an internal weapons bay and landing gear panels that are absolutely flush with the fuselage.

Known as the LOUT program – LO part standing for Low Observable – it formally began with a contract awarded by the German Defence Ministry in 2010.  Airbus had started their own research program into developing a Very Low Observable platform three years before that.  The activity has been conducted in great secrecy at two Airbus sites – here in Manching and also Bremen.  The company describes the process as their equivalent to U.S. sites such as Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works in Palmdale, California.

Whether a flying version of the design will evolve from the static test version is unclear, with Airbus declining to provide any information about what the next steps will be – if any.  However, the company is certain that the knowledge gained will not only feed into the Eurofighter replacement – known as the Future Combat Air System – but also into further upgrades of Typhoon itself.  At this stage FCAS has three member nations – France, Germany and Spain.  For the moment it looks as if Britain and Sweden are moving in another direction, but given the early stage of the project there is still time for them to be brought into the fold.

The subtle message from Airbus is that Europe has all of the necessary skills to produce a viable 6th generation combat aircraft and more steps have been taken in that direction than anyone – apart from a few insiders – have been aware of before now.

 

Top view of LOUT  (Airbus photo)
Top view of LOUT  (Airbus photo)

 

LOUT model from underneath  (Airbus photo)
LOUT model from underneath  (Airbus photo)

 

 

 

 

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