You may look at the LM X-55 and think ho-hum and say, “It looks just like a Fairchild Dornier 328JET.” It certainly does and is, in fact, based on that design. The X-55 certainly lacks the implied glamour of an exotic configuration like the X-3 or X-29 experimental airplanes. Don’t let that fool you. Despite the yeoman-like appearance the X-55 is an important tool in the use and development of carbon composites in aircraft construction.
Developed by Lockheed Martin’s famed “Skunk Works,” the X-55, or more precisely, the Advanced Composite Cargo Aircraft, is very interestingly built airplane. Imagine being able to build an airplane in fewer parts. In the ACCA, program specifically the upper and lower rear fuselage was built in as little as 300 parts as opposed to 3000!
The X-55 first flew on 2 June 2009 from Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, CA.
Composite airplanes in one form or another have been around for over 30 years. Composites offer lighter overall weight, and greater strength. Over those 30 years, have become an increasing part of an airplane’s gross weight. Composites make airplanes like the Cirrus, F/A-18, 777, and 787 possible, meaning more efficient flight for less cost per hour.
As you can see by the illustration below, the number of parts of the airplane have been reduce by a very impressive 90%:
Lockheed Martin’s You Tube Channel offers and interesting overview of the X-55:
Lockheed Martin’s Official Page for the Advanced Composite Cargo Aircraft Program.
As a side note, I’m not aware of what the current status of this program is. If readers have any information I’d appreciate it :)