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Northrop Grumman Begins Construction of Revolutionary XRQ-73 Hybrid Electric Aerial Drone.

On July 10, 2024, Northrop Grumman Corporation announced the design and construction of a groundbreaking new uncrewed aerial vehicle (UAV) under the Series Hybrid Electric Propulsion Aircraft Demonstration (SHEPARD) program. This innovative aircraft, now officially designated as the XRQ-73, is set to revolutionize long-endurance missions with its advanced hybrid electric propulsion system.
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The newly unveiled XRQ-73, Northrop Grumman's groundbreaking hybrid electric UAV, poised to revolutionize long-endurance aerial missions for military forces. (Picture source: Northrop Grumman)

In a strategic collaboration with its subsidiary Scaled Composites, Northrop Grumman has developed the XRQ-73 for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The XRQ-73 is a critical part of DARPA's "X-prime" initiative, aimed at leveraging cutting-edge hybrid electric architecture and component technologies to quickly mature and deploy mission-focused aircraft.

Weighing in at 1,250 pounds (567 kilograms), the XRQ-73 UAV is designed to be powered by a state-of-the-art hybrid-electric engine, with its maiden flight anticipated before the end of 2024. This project builds on the technological advancements from the earlier AFRL/IARPA Great Horned Owl (GHO) project, aiming to mitigate system-level integration risks and accelerate the deployment of new aircraft designs for the Department of Defense (DoD).

"The idea behind a DARPA X-prime program is to take emerging technologies and burn down system-level integration risks to quickly mature a new missionized long-endurance aircraft design that can be fielded quickly," explained Steve Komadina, SHEPARD program manager. "The SHEPARD program is maturing a specific propulsion architecture and power class as an exemplar of potential benefits for the Department of Defense.”

The DARPA SHEPARD team is a coalition of experts from the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), the Office of Naval Research (ONR), and various branches of the U.S. military. The prime contractor, Northrop Grumman’s Aeronautics Systems sector, is leading the initiative from its headquarters in Redondo Beach, California.

Scaled Composites, known for its pioneering work in aviation, is a major contributor to the XRQ-73 project. Other key partners include Cornerstone Research Group, Inc., Brayton Energy, LLC, PC Krause and Associates, and EaglePicher Technologies, LLC, each bringing specialized expertise to ensure the success of the SHEPARD program.

The XRQ-73's hybrid electric propulsion system promises enhanced efficiency, extended endurance, and reduced operational costs, marking a significant step forward in UAV technology. As Northrop Grumman and its partners continue to push the boundaries of innovation, the XRQ-73 is poised to become a cornerstone of the U.S. DoD's future aerial operations.

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