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Switchblade (aircraft)

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Title: Switchblade (aircraft)  
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Subject: Robert Thomas Jones (engineer), List of unmanned aerial vehicles
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Switchblade (aircraft)

For the manned fighter concept, see Northrop Switchblade.
Northrop Grumman Switchblade
Image of Switchblade in oblique position by John MacNeill
Role oblique flying wing UAV
National origin United States of America
Manufacturer Northrop Grumman
Program cost US$10.3 million

The Switchblade was a proposed unmanned aerial vehicle developed by Northrop Grumman for the United States. The United States Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded Northrop Grumman a US$10.3 million contract for risk reduction and preliminary planning for an X-plane oblique flying wing demonstrator.[1]

The program aimed at producing a technology demonstrator aircraft to explore the various challenges which the radical design entails. The proposed aircraft would be a purely flying wing (an aircraft with no other auxiliary surfaces such as tails, canards or a fuselage) where the wing is swept with one side of the aircraft forward, and one backwards in an asymmetric fashion.[2] This aircraft configuration is believed to give it a combination of high speed, long range and long endurance.[3] The program entailed two phases. Phase I explored the theory and result in a conceptual design, while Phase II would have resulted in the design, manufacture and flight test of an aircraft. The outcome of the program would have resulted in a dataset that could then be used when considering future military aircraft designs.

Flight of the Switchblade was scheduled for 2020 with its 61-meter long oblique wing perpendicular to its engines like a typical aircraft. As the aircraft increased speed, the wing begins to pivot, so that when it breaks the sound barrier, its wing has swiveled 60 degrees, with one wingtip pointing forward and the other backward. The change in aerodynamics and the general structure would have made the plane very difficult to control for a human being. The plane was to be totally controlled by an onboard computer, which handled appropriately all the parameters needed for maintaining a stable flight during the mission. Following Phase I, the aircraft concept was cancelled in 2008.[4]


Both Messerschmitt and Blohm + Voss aircraft companies worked on the asymmetric wing concept at the end of World War II. The B&V P.202 and ME P.1109 were their initial attempts at implementing this concept.

From 1979 to 1982, NASA successfully flew the piloted AD-1 demonstrator aircraft which validated the oblique wing concept.

Specifications (Northrop Grumman Switchblade)

General characteristics

  • Wingspan: 200 ft 2 in (61 m)


  • Maximum speed: Mach 2
  • Range: 5,000 nmi (5,754 mi; 9,260 km)
  • Service ceiling: 60,000 ft (18,000 m)

See also


  • Rose, Bill, 2010. Secret Projects: Flying Wings and Tailless Aircraft. Hinckley, England: Midland Publishing

External links

  • Popular Science: Switchblade
  • DARPA project information
  • Info on the NASA and DARPA oblique wing research programs
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