DARPA To Develop VTOL X-Plane

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DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, said last week it will develop a new X-Plane to pursue "radical improvements" in aircraft that can take off and land vertically, then shift to horizontal flight mode and reach speeds up to 400 knots. "The design envisions an aircraft that could fly fast and far, hover when needed, and accomplish diverse missions without the need for prepared landing areas," DARPA said. The autonomous aircraft will be developed by Aurora Flight Sciences, based in Manassas, Virginia. First flight tests are projected for 2018.

Aurora's Phase 2 design for the VTOL X-Plane envisions an unmanned aircraft with two large rear wings and two smaller front canards. A turboshaft engine, like the one used by Osprey V-22 aircraft, would drive 24 electric motors, nine integrated into each wing and three inside each canard. Each motor would drive a ducted fan. Both the wings and the canards would rotate to direct fan thrust as needed: rearward for forward flight, downward for hovering and at angles during transition between the two. "This is an extremely novel approach," said Ashish Bagai, DARPA program manager. "It will be very challenging to demonstrate, but it has the potential to move the technology needle the farthest and provide some of the greatest spinoff opportunities for other vertical flight and aviation products."

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