on Sept. 14, Dr. Will Roper, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics announced that the U.S. Air Force has secretly designed, built, and flown at least one full-scale prototype of a new generation fighter aircraft, as part of the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program.
The existence of the demonstrator was first confirmed by Dr. Roper to reporter Valerie Insinna of Defense News during the Air Force Association’s virtual Air, Space and Cyber Conference 2020:
“We’ve already built and flown a full-scale flight demonstrator in the real world, and we broke records in doing it. We are ready to go and build the next-generation aircraft in a way that has never happened before.”
The development is certain to shock the defense community, which last saw the first flight of an experimental fighter during the battle for the Joint Strike Fighter contract 20 years ago.
With the Air Force’s future fighter program still in its infancy, the rollout and successful first flight of a demonstrator were not expected for years.
While the details about the aircraft are still classified, including its appearance, the first new fighter jet designed and flown in 20 years, since the Joint Strike Fighter competition between the X-32 and X-35, was designed using advanced Computer Aided Engineering (CAE) techniques and Digital Twin concepts to build and test a virtual version of the aircraft, before moving to physically build and fly the prototype.
The Air Force leadership assessed that this new approach for development and manufacturing, used also for the new T-7A Red Hawk trainer, could reduce the total life cycle cost of a next-generation fighter jet by 10% over 30 years compared to legacy fighters.
According to Defense News, Dr. Roper declined to comment on the number of prototypes, the manufacturer and the timing of development and first flight, the aircraft’s mission, unmanned or optionally manned capabilities, low observability, and supersonic or hypersonic speeds.