Diagram showing a size comparison between ATTAS (shown in light red) and the flying wing it can simulate (Image: DLR)
“Flying wing” designs that offer reduced weight and drag when compared to traditional “tube with wings and a tail” designs are theoretically the most efficient aircraft configuration. However, true flying wings are inherently unstable and difficult to control. To aid in the design of future aircraft that utilize such a design, researchers at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) have been performing flight tests to study the flight characteristics of large flying wing configurations using what has been dubbed a flying “chameleon”. The DLR’s Advanced Technologies Testing Aircraft System (ATTAS) research aircraft resembles a conventional small passenger aircraft, but it has been fitted with special hardware and software to give it the flight characteristics and performance of an entirely different aircraft.