Scaled Composites flies experimental plane for mystery customer


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Scaled Composites earlier this week completed the first maiden flight of a new experimental plane, the Model 401, for an unnamed customer.

Details of the first flight are sketchy, though Scaled posted a video on Facebook showing the takeoff of Vehicle Number 1. The Model 401 prototypes have an identical outer design with a 38-ft (11.6 m) wingspan and identical performance characteristics. Lightweight construction allows for an empty weight of 4,000 lb (1,814 kg) and a takeoff weight of 8,000 lb (3,628 kg).

The Model 401 uses a single Pratt & Whitney JTD-15D-5D engine punching 3,045 lb of thrust. This provides for a speed of Mach 0.6 (456 mph, 735 km/h) and a service ceiling of 30,000 ft (10,000 m) with a flight endurance of three hours.

Two of these have been built, so far. The picture of the plane at the link suggests it is stealth designed so that radar will have trouble detecting it. The specifications above suggest to me that it is possibly a military training plane. I would welcome the speculations of my many aviation readers

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7 comments

  • Joe

    Lots of useful load, not much of a service ceiling, not very fast, maybe it is just an engineering mule meant to showcase its construction concepts, no idea what anyone would do with this.

  • MDN

    You do not need stealth in a trainer, so that doesn’t seem likely. I would conjecture it could be the platform for a low cost stealthy drone that could be deployed in quantity without breaking the bank. Low and slow, yes, but if it’s at night and you are invisible, who cares? Take out the cockpit and provision 1000 lbs for a payloald/instruments/comms package and you get an attractive 37.5% fuel fraction which I think would provide A LOT of utility. And test it with a cockpit to give humans something to do and keep everyone guessing what the heck it is for : )

  • MDN: My thought was that this might be an inexpensive vehicle for training pilots to fly a much larger stealth vehicle, going on the assumption that there are distinct aspects of this kind of flying craft that a pilot needs to learn how to deal with.

  • Mike Borgelt

    The original Predator drone test flights had a human pilot IIRC. Mike Melville I believe. I remember a photo in an old AW&ST of this.
    The Model 401 could be a drone but I think Robert may be right. I have read that doing stealth may involve unbalanced flight to minimise radar returns in a particular direction. Operational stealth aircraft are fearfully expensive to operate so a low cost trainer may be a good idea.

  • pzatchok

    It could also be a cheap slightly stealth vehicle for air to ground attacks on a small nations budget.

    Just stealthy enough to get through shoulder mounted weapons and the cheap older anti air systems popular in other third world nations.

    But a trainer is more probable.

  • wodun

    Could be a prototype for a larger plane. Is three hours of flight time useful for anything? They do make a lot of drones but also the B2 so who knows. As a drone, maybe they could use it to augment the F-35. Perhaps a scaled up version would be able to fly cover for the new stealth bomber.

  • Mark

    I would guess a drone prototype/testbed. It’s cheaper to test such a prototype craft with a pilot than to develop the software system to operate it. I doubt it’s a trainer, since it is far cheaper, safer and expedient for an experienced pilot to train on a simulator.

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