Test flights in a simulated passenger aircraft of the future

The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) has been performing flight tests to simulate and study the flight characteristics of large 'flying wing' configurations to prepare for future aircraft designs.

This is what the passenger plane of the future could look like – the flying wing configuration simulated by ATTAS as part of the NACRE project. Credit: DLR/NACRE

These have been tested and evaluated using DLR's ATTAS (Advanced Technologies Testing Aircraft System) research aircraft.

For 25 years, ATTAS has been a flying 'chameleon' and is a piece of aviation history. At the same time, the test aircraft – with its special capabilities – is also paving the road for the aircraft of tomorrow.

Although the pilot is flying an aircraft resembling a small passenger plane, it feels like he is sitting in an aircraft with the fuselage and wings blended into a single entity. In addition to conventional mechanical flight controls, ATTAS is also equipped with an electrical flight control system. This allows the researchers to intervene in the flight control system using special hardware and software and give ATTAS the flight characteristics and performance of an entirely different aircraft.

"With its special control technology, ATTAS can behave like other aircraft while in the air," explains Dirk Leißling, a researcher at the DLR Institute of Flight Systems. "This gives us the opportunity to simulate aircraft that do not even exist yet, and to see where we still need to make improvements."

First, the aircraft simulation is created using a computer, where a mathematical model defines the dynamic behaviour of the new design. This is transferred to the flight control system of ATTAS. The pilot can then test and evaluate the performance of the new aircraft design first hand under real flight conditions.