50 Unbelievable Military Concept Aircraft

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Before there can be an aircraft, there is the concept. The distance between what can be created conceptually and what is scientifically possible is usually a pretty big gap – but that’s how we drive the world forward right? Through innovation! The following 50 photos are the wildest, difficult-to-imagine, yet actual concepts that military personnel came up with in the search for the next greatest aircraft. Enjoy seeing and learning about these wild planes!

darpa

50. DARPA Falcon Project

The FALCON project is an ambitious, multi-phase program to develop a family of hypersonic, high-altitude military aircraft and intercontinental cruise missiles. The first component is the X-41 Common Aero Vehicle (CAV). A standardized aerial platform to launch hypersonic cruise missiles and low earth orbit satellites. Several Hypersonic Technology Vehicles were created and tested but only one prototypes is still active. But it’s defiantly the most impressive of the family.

When fully operational, the Hypersonic Cruise Vehicle 4 (HCV-4) could cover 9,000 nautical miles (17,000 km) in just 2 hours, while carrying a payload of up to 12,000 pounds (5,500 kg). As it skims the upper edges of the atmosphere, the HCV will reach speeds of up to Mach 20, thanks to advanced scramjets boosted by internal rockets. Of course, at such velocity, the payload doesn’t’ really matter. If used as a weapon, one HCV full of just 6 tons worth of rock and striking at 20 times the speed of sound would be more powerful than any conventional bomb in the Air Force’s arsenal.

pak-ta

49. Russian PAK TA Supersonic Transport

This is certainly one of the most ambitious and challenging aircraft design concepts, although many critics claim it’s little more than propaganda. Besides crafting the largest operational transport aircraft in the world, the PAK TA is supposed to reach supersonic cruise speeds in excess of 1,200 mph. Or in perspective, more than double the C-5M Super Galaxy and just a bit behind the F-22 Raptor’s top afterburner-assisted speed of 1,500 mph.

With 200+ tons of cargo capacity, the PAK TA could haul seven main battle tanks or a full infantry company with several days of combat supplies. If all 80 anticipated PAK TA’s in the fleet were activated, they could lift all the heavy vehicles in an armored division over 4,000 miles away, in just one massive flight.

hybrid-airship

48. Hybrid Airship

Unlike many airships, energy efficient blimp focuses on heavy hauling rather than endurance. The Lockheed Martin Hybrid Airship is really a hybrid airplane/airship, which could carry more than 200 tons. Such capacity would rival all but the heaviest fixed wing transporters, with the added advantage of being able to land nearly anywhere in the world. Thanks to the airship’s partial deflation system, even jagged terrain is no obstacle.

Combining the aerodynamic lift of an aircraft with the extra lift provided by safe helium gives the Hybrid Airship a huge edge over legacy airships. The laminated fabric airframe also has traditional turbines on each side to give extra control at low speeds.

47. Deep Flight Challenger

deep-flight

This incredibly ambitious and probably far off aircraft is still impressive enough to be included here. If successful, Graham Hawkes “Deep Flight Challenger” could make history by combining an aircraft and deep-dive submarine into one frame. While these will likely be most common in the luxury civilian sporting market, even a few Challengers could open many new vistas for special forces.

The current prototype submersible has a beam of 18 feet, width of 13, and a height of 6 feet. It weighs only 4,730 pounds dry. For underwater operation, it has a life support capacity of twenty-four hours.

privateer-amphibious

46. Privateer Amphibious Plane

First showcased in 2010, the Privateer amphibious plane is more than your run of the mill charter plane. Developing completely in the private sector, this aircraft could fill many roles currently being serviced by expensive specialize military planes. The Privateer is made out of lightweight carbon fiber composites and a unique floating layout for ease of operation in rough water.

With speed and payload performance similar to many unarmed patrol aircraft in service today, and fuel efficiency superior to most legacy craft, the Privateer would also cost only a fraction as much to operate. Just as importantly, it’s designed with a modular, plug-and-play interior to quickly adapt to a wide range of missions in any weather.

 

image courtesy of NASA
image courtesy of NASA

 

45. NASA GL-10 Greased Lightning

That odd-looking aircraft above is just a 50% scale, all-electric test bed for NASA’s groundbreaking GL-10. This diesel-electric tilt-wing helicopter seeks to address the shortcomings of current aircraft, such as the MV-22 Osprey, and take the technology to the next level. The next-generation of tilt-rotor aircraft will be much more reliable, fuel efficient and capable of hauling even heavier loads.
Setting it apart from contemporary designs, the GL-10’s wings and horizontal stabilizers also rotate with the fixed motors, which allows them to take off with a heavier payload. The current design calls for two heavy engines on the stabilizers and six smaller ones along the wingtips. In the future full-scale version, power will be provide by a pair of 6 kW (8 hp) diesel engines that will also continuously charge the lithium ion batteries. The propellers on the wings’ leading edges generate high-speed airflow and increased lift even in low velocity flight. All of which drastically improves pitch, roll, and yaw control during the critical transition phase from hover to forward flight, making the aircraft much safer.

The vastly improved VTOL capability of the GL-10 also reduces the need for elaborate ground support equipment. In addition, the new propellers are optimized for a low tip-speed, which markedly reduces engine noise. The current military UAV variant is able to perform several vertical take-off and landings and maintain a loiter endurance of up to 24 hours in forward flight.

XFL-1

44. Bell XFL Airabonita

The Bell XFL Airabonita was an experimental shipboard interceptor aircraft made for the US Air Force. Due to engine difficulties and failing evaluations the plans were cancelled.

43. X-57 Maxwell

The X-57 Maxwell might look mundane, but this interesting aircraft is one of NASA’s premier technology demonstrators. As the flagship for the Scalable Convergent Electric Propulsion Technology Operations Research (SCEPTOR) project, the Maxwell will test some of the most farfetched aircraft designs out there.
Modified from an off-the-shelf Tecnam P2006T, the X-57 is an all-electric aircraft, with fourteen different EM motors driving propellers mounted on the wing leading edges.

 

image courtesy of NASA
image courtesy of NASA

The X-57, is NASA’s first X-plane in many years, but just the first and smallest of five in the New Horizons Initiative. The first flight is planned for 2017. All fourteen electric motors will be used during takeoff and landing, but only the outer two heavy engines will be employed during regular flight. The improved airflow over the wings caused by the additional motors generates much greater lift, which among other benefits allows for a narrower wing. The two-seat plane will have a range of approximately 100 miles (160 km) and a maximum flight time of anout one hour. The X-57 should reduce the kilowatt energy required to power a light aircraft at 175 miles per hour (282 km/h) by five-fold.

X-2

42. Bell X-2

The Bell X-2 was an “X-Plane” research aircraft which was built to investigate flight characteristics in the Mach 2-3 range. This rocket-powered aircraft was joint developed in 1945 by Bell Aircraft Corporation, the US Air Force, and the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. The goal from this project was to research aerodynamic problems of supersonic flight, and it also looked more into expanding the speed and altitude that was reached in a previous X-1 plane.

41. The Double Bubble D8

MIT’s D8 Series design is not just a technology demonstrator, but rather represents a new common platform for a whole new family of transports, spy planes and even high-endurance gunships. The iconic “double bubble” frame uses a modified tube and wing, which allows for much a wider fuselage than traditional aircraft.

 

image courtesy of NASA
image courtesy of NASA

The ultra-low sweep wings cut down significantly on drag and weight, as well as generate extra lift. In addition, the engines sit aft of the fuselage and are fully embedded, which enhances the aircraft’s maneuverability considerably.

The D8 series aircraft should enter service in the early 2030s and could cruise at Mach 0.74, all while carrying at least 200 passengers out to a range of 3,000 nautical miles.

Boeing-X36

40. Boeing X-36

The Boeing X-36 was a prototype jet designed to fly without the traditional tail assembly. The plane featured high maneuverability, suitability, and highly successful test, but there has been no signs of further development as of 2017.

39. Sky Voyage

The first of several personal aircraft on this list, the Sky Voyage is defiantly one of the most ambitious and truly unique aircraft out there. As a combination airship and glider, the Sky Voyage family of aircraft could revolutionize military scouting and give special operations forces a whole new world of capabilities.

sky-voyage

The ultra-light ship can take off vertically by inflating the gasbag in an upright position. Once aloft, the aircraft is maneuvered through the wind and thermals like a glider, but also includes a backup hydrogen fuel cell, powered by a turbine engine.

Some planned variants could be completely autonomous as well and stay airborne potentially for days.

Boeing_X-48

38. Boeing X-48

The Boeing X-48 was an experimental unmanned aerial vehicle that was built with the purpose of investigating the characteristics of blended wing body aircraft. Boeing tested a version of this plane for NASA in 2007.

37. Lockheed Martin’s Advanced Vehicle Concept

This cutting-edge box wing design is vastly more efficient than even traditional swept wing aircraft, but that’s only part of its advanced features. In the near future, commercial airliners and military transports will incorporate most of these design improvements. Besides new landing gear, avionics and composite materials, the engines have been completely redesigned.

 

image courtesy of NASA
image courtesy of NASA

The new Rolls Royce Liberty Works Ultra Fan Engine achieves an unprecedented bypass ratio (flow of air around engine compared to through the engine), which is nearly five times better than current engines, pushing the limits of turbofan technology to maximize efficiency.

This design is among those presented to NASA at the end of 2011 by companies that conducted NASA-funded studies into aircraft that could enter service in 2025.

Boeing_MQ-25_Stingray

36. Boeing MQ-25 Stingray

The Boeing MQ-25 Stingray was a unique project aircraft that was an unmanned carrier aviation air system. It was a planned unmanned combat aerial system that came from the result of the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike program.

35. Helicopter/Fighter Jet

The conceptual aircraft you see here is completely idealistic, but my goodness how neat does it look!

34. Carrier-Based Fighter

This awesome concept look like a F/A-18 on steroids! Obviously futuristic, this jet is so fun to dream about.

33. SKY Compact Transport Jet

Designed to be small enough to evade all radar detection, the jet you see here is just a fun concept to gawk over. Is it as wild as the next one on the list?

Bell_X-14

32. Bell X-14

The Bell X-14 was an experimental VTOL plane developed for the US Air Force and NASA. This plane’s main purpose was to help research vectored thrust horizontal and vertical takeoff, hovering, transitioning to forward flight, and vertical landing. Only one plane was built and it was retired in 1981.

Bell_X-5

31. Bell X-5

The Bell X-5 was one of the first aircrafts capable of changing the sweep of its wings in flight. The plane was inspired by the P.1101 design from the German Messerschmitt. The difference from the inspired plane was that Bell put a system of electric motors to adjust the sweep in flight. Currently this aircraft is retired on display in the National Museum of the US Air Force in the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base close to Dayton, Ohio.

Bell_X-1

30. Bell X-1

The Bell X-1 was a rocket engine aircraft that was a supersonic research project for National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics of the US Army Air Forces. Upon completion of it being built, the X-1 reached speeds of nearly 1,000 miles per hour. 7 planes were built before it was retired.

Bell_ARH-70

29. Bell ARH-70 Arapaho

The Bell ARH-70 Arapaho was a four-bladed light military helicopter designed for the US Army’s Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter program. The helicopter was supposed to replace the Army’s older OH-58D Kiowa Warrior. Delays and growing cots for the program caused its cancellation in 2008.

Beech_XA-38

28. Beechcraft XA-38

The Beechcraft XA-38 was a ground attack aircraft developed around World War 2. Beechcraft developed this aircraft fitting it with a 75mm cannon. Its first flight took place in May of 1944, and from this test flight it was established the aircraft would not be ready for the projected Invasion of Japan.

Bell_533

27. Bell 533

The Bell 533 was a research helicopter built under a contract with the US Army throughout the 60s. Its purpose was to explore the limits and conditions shown by helicopter rotors at high speeds. After a couple of test flights the aircraft was retired and is now currently on display at the US Army Aviation Applied Technology Directorate in Fort Eustis, Virginia.

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26. Bell P-59 Airacomet

The Bell P-59 Airacomet was a fighter aircraft produced by Bell Aircraft during World War 2. The US Air Force wasn’t impressed by its performance leading to the contract of this aircraft getting cancelled.

Bell_V-280_Valor

25. Bell V-280 Valor

The Bell V-280 Valor was a tiltrotor aircraft co-developed by Bell Helicopter and Lockheed Martin for the US Army’s Future Vertical Lift program. This aircraft was presented at the 2013 Army Aviation Association of America’s Annual Professional Forum and Exposition in Fort Worth, Texas. It made its first flight in 2017. Currently the aircraft is under development.

Bell_XF-109

24. Bell D-188A

The Bell D-188A, also known as the XF-109/XF3L, was a proposed eight-engine Mach 2 VTOL tilt jet fighter. The idea for this aircraft came from request by the US Air Force and the US Navy asking for a VTOL/STVOL supersonic, all-weather fighter-bomber and defense interceptor. As the developments continued the Navy and the Air Force lost interest cancelling the development before an example was built.

Bell_XFM_Airacuda

23. Bell XFM Airacuda

The Bell XFM Airacuda was a heavy fighter aircraft, developed during the 1930s.The special thing about this plane was that this was the Bell Aircraft Corporation’s first military aircraft. This plane had one prototype and 12 production models with one fully operational squadron.

Bell_XP-83

22. Bell XP-83

The Bell XP-83 was a US prototype escort fighter developed during World War 2. Due to a lack of power and more advanced planes emerging, this aircraft was retired.

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21. Boeing Bird of Prey

The Boeing Bird of Prey was a black project with the purpose of using stealth technology. With only a $67 Million budget, it was one of the more low-cost programs compared to others. No plans were made for further development, so it was retired in 1999.

Boeing_Sikorsky_RAH_66_Comache

20. Boeing–Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche

The Boeing – Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche was an advanced five blade reconnaissance helicopter designed for the US Army. Due to budget cuts, the contract for this plane despite decent to good test results.

Boeing_Skyfox

19. Boeing Skyfox

The Boeing Skyfox was a twin-engine jet that was an upgraded Lockheed T-33. This aircraft was created to compete and replace the Cessna T-37 Tweet. Boeing acquired this project in 1986. Due to a lack of customers the project was cancelled.

18. Lockheed Martin’s HALE-D Airship

Lockheed Martin’s latest airship concept, the HALE-D, is one of their most ambitious yet. The High Altitude Long Endurance Demonstrator. The drone blimp is completely solar powered and can operate up to 60,000 feet. By cruising along jet streams and thermals while using its engines mostly to maintain position, the HALE-D is designed to stay airborne for months. Theoretically, even for years.

lockheed-hale-d

Once on station, the HALE-D could scan a radius of 600 miles with even more powerful sensors than surveillance satellites could carry. This relatively cheap alternative to satellites isn’t just limited to the spying roll. Many programs are active to convert the blimp into a weaponized drone “mothership.” Such a system could hover for vast periods of time over a conflict zone, collecting detailed intelligence the whole time, and then strike targets with unparalleled precision and accuracy.

lockheed-cormorant

17. The Lockheed Martin Cormorant

Perhaps the most exotic of all the aircraft on this list, the Cormorant is also one of the most exciting. These small but powerful jet-powered drones will be launched and recovered from Trident ICBM missile tubes. In essence, converting the Navy’s Cold War-era ballistic missile submarines into underwater aircraft carriers. Each fully autonomous aircraft could haul more than a ton of ordinance or various surveillance sensors.

Most impressively, the sub would not need to surface. Compressed gas would fire each drone to the surface, where the shell would break off and reusable rockets boost the aircraft to launch speed. While the exact range of these aircraft is yet to be released, it will more than likely be similar to that of a Tomahawk cruise missile. Except that this incredible missile can hit multiple targets in a single mission before returning to base, rearming and launching again.

lockheed_martin_sr-72_

16. The SR-72

The SR-72 will be essentially a more cost-efficient spy satellite that’s able to launch on demand. Filling the coverage gap between surveillance satellites, manned radar aircraft, and drones for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), the SR-72 will also be quite capable of strike missions as well. With the rapid proliferation of anti-satellite weapons, advanced electronic warfare systems, and counter-stealth technologies, such hypersonic craft could dash in and out of enemy airspace before anyone could detect or intercept them.  Making it one of the fastest military aircraft ever.

The Skunk Works designed SR-72 should is also rumored to hit top speeds of Mach 6; even faster than any of the proposed new generation of scramjet-powered missiles.

The SR-72 is expected to deploy a turbine-based combined cycle (TBCC) engine system. This includes an ultra-efficient turbine engine for low speeds, a ramjet for accelerating to high hypersonic speeds, and a scramjet to maintain Mach 6 cruise. The turbine and ramjet engines share common inlets and nozzles, with different airflow paths in between. The SR-71’s uniquely designed engines converted to low-speed ramjets by redirecting the airflow around the core and into the afterburner for speeds greater than Mach 2.5. As a final touch, scramjets with supersonic combustion cover the range of high supersonic to hypersonic speeds.

15. B-21 Long-Range Strike Bomber

With the bulk of America’s strategic bombers older than the crews flying them, building a new-generation heavy bomber is a top priority for the US Air Force. Especially since potential adversaries are making rapid progress towards overcoming the legacy stealth features of the B-2 bombers. While the Pentagon is aiming for a radically improved aircraft over the B-2 Spirit, the project is also being pursued in a much more cost-consicous manner than previous procurement programs. Whenever possible, existing “off the shelf” technologies and subsystems will be used to keep the project on budget, instead of developing new and riskier ones.

 

image courtesy of USAF
image courtesy of USAF

The LRS-B aircraft is also intended to be multi-mission and not just a nuclear bomber. Ideally, the Air Force hopes to replace the B-52, B-1 and B-2’s with this single common frame. Unlike most modern aircraft though, the designers are striving for high speed, likely even hypersonic cruising, to penetrate enemy air defenses rather than relying solely on stealth. The USAF expects each to cost $1 billion, with development costs factored in, and aims for a per-aircraft flyaway cost of $550 million. A significant savings over each B-2’s $2 billion price tag.

14. REL Skylon Space Plane

Blurring the line between spaceship and aircraft, the REL Skylon is one of the most versatile future aircraft on this list. Powered by SABRE ramjet engines and made out of 100% smart composites, the Skylon can reach low altitude orbit at speeds greater than Mach 5.
To put that in perspective, one of these could launch from London and land in Sydney, Australia in less than five hours. And unlike current spacecraft, the plane would only require a short inspection window without a long refit window before launching again. As a bomber, transport, satellite launch vehicle or spy plane, the Skylon could be one of the most useful military aircraft flying by the late 2030s.

skylon

All of this is made possible by Reaction Engines and their unique SABRE propulsion concept. Eliminating the need for additional rocket assistance once the air is too thin for jet engines, the SABRE system is a closed cycle combo ramjet/rocket propulsion system. Added benefit of this design also enables horizontal takeoff and landing, all while drastically cutting maintenance costs, required support infrastructure, and improving the sortie rate.

Reaction Engines has partnered with the EU’s LAPCAT — Long-term Advanced Propulsion Concepts and Technologies project. With such significant additional funding, the Skylon project has a very high chance of seeing development.

 

image courtesy of Airbus
image courtesy of Airbus

 

13. Airbus Future Liner Concept

Airbus’s partial blended wing future liner design may be privately funded, but it will have a massive impact on future military aircraft – especially European aircraft. Its long and slim wings allow a heavy jet to cut through the skies with the grace of a glider. All while the airflow over the wings improves lift, reduces drag and ramps up fuel efficiency.

And that’s just the broad design. Just as importantly, new smart composite materials can analyze the force load they’re subjected to, allowing the autopilot to plot even more efficient flight profiles in real time. Just as important, advanced manufacturing methods will significantly reduce the cost of future airframes, despite their complex design.

The fuselage will no longer a simple tube but is curved and shaped enough to provide additional cabin space, with better aerodynamics outside to improve flight. In particular, the aircraft’s tail section is U-shaped, which serves as a shield to significantly cut down on noise “pollution.” Just as remarkable, this concept plane does not use a vertical tail, as seen with most aircraft today.

Boeing_X-45A

12. Boeing X-45a

The Boeing X-45 was an unmanned combat aircraft which was the next generation of completely autonomous military aircraft. There was 2 of these planes built.

renault-hybrid

11. Renault Hydroplane

While originally intended as an extreme sport and luxury ride, the Renault Hydroplane concept has incredible military potential. A joint project between the Italian Florent Mennechet college, 3E-oeil Studio and Renault Design, the Hydroplane is being financed completely by the private sector. While not intended for high-altitude flight, this ship could go a few dozen feet airborne for short distances, at high speeds, all while hauling much larger payloads than a similar sized light aircraft.

In combination with the “boat mode,” the futuristic hydroplane could serve as an exceptional search & rescue platform or high-speed assault vehicle for special forces. Its two independent electric engines also have the benefit of making the craft incredibly silent, even at max speed.

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10. Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet

The Boeing F/A-18E Super Hornet was an aircraft that carried air to air missiles and air to surface weapons.

waverider

9. Boeing X-51 Waverider

The unmanned Boeing X-51 WaveRider is currently the most advanced scramjet aircraft available. Able to hit hypersonic speeds of Mach 5 (3,300 mph; 5,300 km/h) at 70,000 feet (21,000 m), this research craft blurs the line between missile and drone. The X-51 completed its first powered hypersonic flight on 26 May 2010 and keeps setting new speed and endurance records. One X-51 even breached Mach 5 for 210 seconds on 1 May 2013 and survived, setting another world record for the longest powered hypersonic flight.

The Waverider designation refers to how the aircraft take advantage of “compression lift,” i.e lift produced by the plane’s own supersonic shock waves. The ambitious X-51 program, a joint effort by the United States Air Force, DARPA, NASA, Boeing, and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, was canceled in 2013. However, the U.S. Air Force plans to build from the X-51 technology and merge the program with the High Speed Strike Weapon (HSSW), a long-range missile with a similar mission as the X-51. The HSSW could fly as early as 2020 and enter service in the mid-2020s. It’s expected to have a range of between 500-600 nautical miles, cruise at Mach 5-6, and also fit on the exterior weapons rack of an F-35 or in the internal bay of a B-2 bomber.

USAF_X32B

8. Boeing X-32 JSF

The Boeing X-32 JSF was a concept aircraft that was in the Joint Strike Fighter contest. In the long run this aircraft lost to the Lockheed Martin X-35.

 

image courtesy of NASA
image courtesy of NASA

 

7. NASA’s Low-Boom Supersonic Test Case

Of all the supersonic dream craft, NASA’s low-boom promises to be the most efficient yet. Drawing upon decades of lessons gleaned from dozens of X craft, NASA’s Langley Research Center will launch this new technology demonstrator in the next few years. Incorporating ultra-efficient turbofans, a tail blister, and flight frame optimized for hypersonic flight, this system should open the door for a whole new generation of supersonic aircraft.

While the technology is being developed primarily for commercial applications, particularly for airliners, such super-efficient designs would be a gamechanger for military aircraft designs. See more images of Nasa experimental aircraft

X-53

6. Boeing X-53 Active Aeroelastic Wing

The Boeing X-53 AAW was a development program completed jointly by the Air Force Research Laboratory, Boeing Phantom Works, and NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center.

falx-air-hybrid-coaxial-uav

5. Falx Air Coaxial Helicopter UAV

Following in the same vein as the VTHL transport, Falx Air will soon introduce a mass-produced, lightweight and fuel efficient military helicopter UAV. This incredibly adaptable helicopter is perfect for reconnaissance, spotting for artillery, direct attack with small missiles and low-level but high-priority cargo delivery.

The entire system will be powered by a fast charging battery systems that not only drastically improves range, but also the sortie rate. With its compact size and low weight, multiple helicopter drones could be transported on a single supply truck straight to the front line and put them directly under the control of troops in contact. Also, see the most expensive military helicopters

falx-air-vhlt

4. Falx Air VLHT

This Very Light Hybrid Transport (VLHT) is one of the most interesting designs among many ultra-light tilt-rotor aircraft under development. The idea is to provide short-ranged but mass vertical takeoff/landing capabilities that don’t require a huge and expensive support infrastructure to operate. These relatively cheap transports require a fraction of the maintenance and fuel as larger tilt-rotor helicopters. Each is highly versatile and can carry either six fully equipped troops, four stretchers and two medics, or 650 kilograms of various supplies.

The whole aircraft is made out of composite materials, measures 34.5 feet long x 11.5 feet high, and has a wingspan of only 33.8 feet. With a total dry weight of only 800 Kilograms, multiple VLHT’s could be packed into a single C-130 for rapid deployment to forward areas.

Specifications (released to date) put its range at around 1430 miles (2300 km +40 min Res) with a top speed of just under 300mph (480kmh) and a cruise speed of 251 mph (405kmh) dropping to 68 mph (110kmh) before it stalls. Short take‐off and landing capabilities and the ability to use grass strips also add to its versatility.

 

image courtesy of Popular Mechanics
image courtesy of Popular Mechanics

 

3. Drone “Arsenal” Motherships

While spotting B-52’s or B-1’s loitering above the battlefield for hours and dropping precision-guided ordinance on demand is a common feature of counterinsurgency warfare today, DARPA plans to take this strategy to the next level. And in only a few years. The ultimate goal calls for using a high-endurance legacy aircraft, such as a strategic bomber or transport plane, to deploy vast swarms of disposable, networked combat UAV’s that blur the line between smart missile and drone.

While this concept might seem like just a drawing board fantasy, most of the components and technologies are already in use. The US Special Forces command has deployed “Tigermoth” surveillance drones from AC-130 gunships for years. These ultra-silent and disposable twin-rotor drones weigh just three pounds each. According to the designers, they could easily swap out their sensor suite for a small high explosive charge “to become a tactical smart weapon, with a range of up to 20 miles.” Checkout more images of military drones.

 

image courtesy of NASA
image courtesy of NASA

 

2. NASA’s N3-X

This hybrid or blended wing body might be a subtle design improvement, but it’s also one of NASA’s most revolutionary near-term X craft. With this system, the wing and body of the aircraft are one. Contrary to the unstable flying wing concept like the B-2, this design makes the aircraft vastly more aerodynamic, stealthier, quieter and above all, more fuel-efficient. Once the futuristic N3-X hammers out the kinks, this design could be incorporated into just about every aircraft type. From cargo planes to fighters and even tilt-rotor helicopters.

This particular NASA X craft also employs several superconducting electric motors to propel distributed turbofans to further reduce fuel consumption, emissions, and noise. Uniquely, two wingtip mounted, gas-turbine superconducting generators power the electric fans, rather than just burning jet fuel through the main engine.

sixth generation fighter jet

1. Sixth Generation Fighter

When the next generation of fighter aircraft begin replacing F-22’s and F-35’s in the 2030s, we’ll see the most radical transformation of air power since the jet engine. For example, all the top programs from Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumann plan for an autonomous drone with optionally manned capabilities.

But these will be lightyears ahead of the drones we’re operating today. All the designs call for using direct-fire lasers to replace guns and air-to-air missiles. Of course, these weapons will likely fall short of our sci-fi fantasies, but even a moderately powered laser could destroy thin-skinned airborne targets from hundreds of miles away. Without warning and within seconds. Odds are, just a single F/A-XX fighter would pack the air dominance abilities of an entire F-22 squadron today.

Where “6th Gen” aircraft really shine though is in performance. In contrast to ultra-maneuverable but fairly short-ranged modern fighters, these future warbirds will possess unparalleled range, altitude and speed. A critical Air Force requirement for manufactures is to add variable control engines that would allow the aircraft to seamlessly transition from sub-sonic patrol speeds to sustained hypersonic flight at the high edge of the stratosphere. Besides this incredible increase in range and response time, such a mission profile would allow 6th Gen fighters to evade any unforeseen future threats simply because there’s so little time for the enemy to spot and engage them. Checkout Military Machine for more great info.