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The X-31 flew in a flight test program exploring high angle of attack flight and maneuverability. Its design explored the use of thrust vectoring to replace aircraft tail surfaces.
NASA Photo - X-31A front view banked in flight

Notice that it has no horizontal stabilizer, but it does have strakes and canards. The digital flight control system input thrust vectoring commands to achieve stability and maneuverability in the pitch and yaw axes. During one portion of the test program, the quasi tailless testing, rudder inputs were programmed to counteract the stabilizing effect of the vertical tail to simulate flight with no tail surfaces.

NASA photo -- F-18 HARB, X-31, VISTA MATV -- thrust vectoring, high alpha, research aircraft
Here the X-31, built by Rockwell (now a division of Boeing), flies with two other thrust vectoring research aircraft, the F-18 and the Multi-Axis Thrust Vectoring research aircraft, VISTA F-16.

NASA photo -- X-31 landing roll drag chute photo
X-31 on landing roll with speed brakes extended and drag chute deployed.

NASA photo -- X-31A high angle of attack flight test photo
The X-31 was extremely maneuverable during high angle of attack flight.

Airplanes by Design features photographs of aircraft from a test pilot perspective, highlighting aeronautical engineering characteristics and flight test facts. To see all of the these pictures (and many more of this aircraft and it’s unique design characteristics), click here. You will always be able to access any of these pictures by selecting the Flickr icon in the top menu bar.

Click here to read more about this airplane. NASA also has an extensive collection of X-31 movies here. You can read more about the quasi tailless flight test of the X-31 in the complete test report here.

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