NASA’s Multi-Utility Technology Testbed (MUTT) looks like a kid’s cartoon drawing of an airplane crossed with a stingray, and it comes with the appropriately pet-esque moniker “Buckeye.” The remotely operated flying wing drone will test how wobbly parts work on aircraft. Last Thursday, it flew for the first time at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, in Edwards, California.
Buckeye the X-56A MUTT is one of NASA’s X-planes–experimental aircraft that further the often-overlooked “aeronautics” part of NASA’s mission. Other planes in this series include the 18-engine thin-winged LEAPTech, as well as the tilt-wing Greased Lightning drone.
Buckeye’s mission, which as a drone it has no choice but to accept, is to test out aeroservoelastic technology, which is how the plane’s controls adapt to structures bending and wobbling during flight. It’s a complex problem that NASA’s been trying to tackle for years–the agency hopes to develop new kinds of lightweight, flexible aircraft, but that flexibility can come with the tradeoff of having less control over moving parts. A big flying wing gives them a great testbed for learning how to balance flexibility and control.
It’s worth noting that the original gyrocopter didn’t work properly until the inventor added some flexibility into the rotor, and yesterday that gave us a flying postman on that Capitol lawn. Who knows what this MUTT will bring home in the future!