This Is How DARPA's Robotic VTOL X-Planes Will Dominate The Sky

The Pentagon's advanced concepts research wing has asked four companies to make "radical improvements" to vertical takeoff and landing aircraft. Revealingly, the initial proposals for these VTOL X-Planes consist entirely of robots.

Above: Artist's concept of Karem Aircraft's proposed VTOL X-Plane.

Frustratingly for DARPA, new designs for VTOL aircraft over the past few generations have remained largely static; these half-helicopters, half-planes are consistently slow and feature limited range. The VTOL Experimental Plane (VTOL X-Plane) program is an effort to change this. In its own words, the Pentagon "seeks to overcome these challenges through innovative cross-pollination between the fixed-wing and rotary-wing worlds, to enable radical improvements in vertical and cruise flight capabilities." To achieve this, they've awarded contracts for Phase 1 development to four companies: Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation, the Boeing Company, Karem Aircraft, Inc., and Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation.

This Is How DARPA's Robotic VTOL X-Planes Will Dominate The Sky

Boeing's VTOL X-Plane

They've asked the companies to design aircraft that can:

  • Achieve a top sustained flight speed of 300 kt-400 kt (345-460 mph/555-740 km/h)
  • Raise aircraft hover efficiency from 60 percent to at least 75 percent
  • Present a more favorable cruise lift-to-drag ratio of at least 10, up from 5-6
  • Carry a useful load of at least 40 percent of the vehicle's projected gross weight of 10,000-12,000 pounds

Interestingly, all four winning companies proposed designs for unmanned vehicles, but DARPA says these same technologies could still apply to manned aircraft, adding that a

common element among the designs is that they all incorporate multipurpose technologies to varying degrees. Multipurpose technologies decrease the number of systems in a vehicle and its overall mechanical complexity. Multipurpose technologies also use space and weight more efficiently to improve performance and enable new and improved capabilities.

This Is How DARPA's Robotic VTOL X-Planes Will Dominate The Sky

Sikorsky's VTOL X-Plane

Preliminary designs are scheduled for late 2015.

[ DARPA ]

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