In addition to brainstorming and testing new airframe ideas for future fighter aircraft, the X-36 tested the Air Force’s Reconfigurable Control for Sizes Fighter Aircraft software. This software allowed the plane to stay airborne even after losing the control surfaces by using neural network processing to have other controls take over if a rudder, flap, or other control surface on the jet was falling. This software was tested with great success on two different flights in 1998.
The X-36 only flew from May to November 1997 for a total of 31 unmanned remote-controlled flights. The aircraft’s relatively short history was promising. It performed much better than expected despite the lack of a tail. Most fighter jets struggle to handle at either end of the speed spectrum. If you go too slow you won’t have enough speed to stay in the air, if you go too fast you sacrifice agility for straight line speed. The X-36, meanwhile, excelled in both high- and low-speed performance in all tests, proving to be remarkably maneuverable and nimble.
Alas, the X-36 program has not been revived since its last flight nearly 25 years ago and all modern fighter aircraft designs include a tail.