The Next Generation of VTOL Craft
Kyle Maxey posted on March 21, 2014 |

DARPA, VTOL, aircraft, Boeing, Karem, Sikorsky, Aurora, Weapon, UAV

According to DARPA, VTOL aircraft are going to be critical for the future of military operations. The trouble is, today’s Osprey and F-35 VTOL planes no longer satisfy the military’s needs. In order to improve the military’s VTOL fleet DARPA has commissioned four companies to participate in its VTOL X-Plane Program.

Starting with the premise that a next generation VTOL craft will need to be fast, DARPA has pegged the X-Plane’s speed somewhere between 554-740km/h (345-460mph). In addition to its improved speed, the new plane will need to raise current VTOL hover efficiency from 60 to 75% and be able to carry a load that’s at least 40 percent of its 4536-5443kg (10-12,000lb) gross weight.

With those rigorous standards set, DARPA selected Aurora Flight Sciences, Boeing,

Karem Aircraft and Sikorsky as the sole competitors in its X-Plane challenge.  While most of those companies have a long history of developing advanced weapons systems, this project is going to require a whole new form of ingenuity.

“Strapping rockets onto the back of a helicopter is not the type of approach we are looking for. This time, rather than tweaking past designs we are looking for true cross-pollinations of designs and technologies from the fixed-wing and rotary-wing worlds,” said Ashish Bagal, DARPA Program Manager. “We were looking for different approaches to solve this extremely challenging problem, and we got them”.

While the outward appearance of each company’s VTOL submission makes them distinct, DARPA was quick to note that each of the selected firms’ concepts leveraged multi-purpose technologies that reduce system complexity while also opting for an unmanned design.

From now until late 2015 each of the four selected companies will be hard at work turning their concept models into preliminary designs. From those designs DARPA will select which ones it feels are most mature and fund the creation of real-life technology demonstrators, with the goal of having them participate in flight tests somewhere between 2017-18.




Images Courtesy of DARPA

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