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Northrop Grumman's New X-Plane Gets Official Name

The uncrewed aircraft should fly by the end of this year.

The XRQ-73.
The XRQ-73.

The X-plane for DARPA's Series Hybrid Electric Propulsion AiRcraft Demonstration (Shepard) program has received its official designation, the XRQ-73.

Northrop Grumman's Aeronautics Systems division in Redondo Beach, CA, is the program's prime contractor. The aircraft concept specialists at the Burt Rutan-founded Scaled Composites are a major supplier. 

Shepard is an X-prime program that hopes to leverage technology from the previous Great Horned Owl project, notably the series hybrid electric architecture and other components. Great Horned Owl was a program started in 2011 by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) to develop an extremely quiet surveillance drone. The project was supported by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).

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The XRQ-73 will be a Group 3 unmanned aircraft system (UAS) that weighs about 1,250 pounds. DARPA expects the aircraft's maiden flight to take place by the end of the year.

According to Steve Komadina, Shepard program manager, DARPA's X-prime program takes emerging technologies and burns down system-level integration risks to mature a new missionized long-endurance aircraft design that can be fielded quickly. Komadina says the program will further develop specific propulsion architecture and power class as a model of potential benefits for the Department of Defense.

The DARPA team includes individuals from AFRL, the Office of Naval Research, and other service members.

Cornerstone Research Group, Brayton Energy, PC Krause and Associates, and EaglePicher Technologies are also working on the project.

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