DARPA, VTOL Plane – DARPA’s VTOL X-plane initiative takes a cocktail of totally innovative technologies and puts them together in one aircraft design that could very well solve some of the chronic limitations of vertical takeoff and landing capable aircraft. Oh, and it’s a design so radical it looks like something that may not be from this planet.
The program has been underway for some time now, but just today DAPRA announced that they have selected Aurora Flight Sciences to execute the second round of the contract which includes building fly prototype. This aircraft has been named LightningStrike.
Foxtrot Alpha talked to Ashish Bagai, the project manager on VTOL X-plane, and learned some interesting details about this totally unique aircraft.
LightningStrike will feature a pair of rear-mounted wings and two smaller canards mounted on the aircraft’s nose. The aircraft’s power will come from a single Rolls Royce T406 tuboshaft engine, the same type that is used on the V-22 Osprey. The engine will be mounted inside the fuselage and will pump out three megawatts of electrical power.
This avalanche of electrical output will be used in part to drive 24 ducted fans, each of which is integrated into its own custom-formed aerodynamic cell. These cells combine to make up the aircraft’s wings and the canards and are tailored to create lift during cruise and increase thrust during VTOL phases of flight. Each wing will include nine cells and each canard will have three. Both the wings and canards will rotate to direct thrust as needed, both rearward and forward as well as downward for hover.
The LightningStrike demonstrator planned to fly in 2018 is no toy; it’s a serious unmanned flying machine that seeks to reach sustained speeds between 300 and 400 knots and carry a useful load of 40 percent of its gross weight of around 12,000 pounds. Additionally, it aims to prove far greater efficiency than any VTOL aircraft flying today, with a lift to drag ratio of at least 10. The best existing VTOL aircraft, like the V-22 Osprey, have a lift to drag ratio of between 5 and 6. The technology demonstrator also aims to raise hover efficiency from around 60 percent for current VTOL aircraft to at least 75 percent.
Yet this aircraft concept has more to prove than enhancing raw performance statistics over existing VTOL craft. Its design and unique power system could have massive implications on the future of flight.
Yesterday we had the opportunity to learn about developments in respect of X-Plane Phase 2, the flying vehicle that DARPA is shaping with the people of Aurora Flight Sciences. They were chosen by the American Agency, receiving 90 million dollars to turn the idea into something interesting.
We already have something juicy to show this VTOL, or vehicle able to land and take off vertically. First of all, we can say it is propelled with a hybrid system, with a combustion engine made by Rolls-Royce, which in turn energizes three generators Honeywell (3MW).
DARPA baptizes his system of propulsion such as EDP (electric propulsion distributed), and as you can see in the video, they consist of two main elements that we could call wings.
We have a a couple in front of generous size, and two in the back that could be called ‘fins’. There is room for 24 propellers rotating with them to change the angle of thrust.
We speak of a drone that weighs between 4,500 and 5,400 kg, and is capable of carrying nearly two tons of merchandise. In terms of speed, as DARPA ensures that it could move to 740 kilometers per hour.
What we see in the video is obviously a recreation, a concept that won’t take shape until at least the year 2018, but it allows us to get a good idea of how the VTOL are developing.
The V-22 Osprey is one of the most spectacular airplanes in the world. It is characterized, precisely because it is able to land and take off vertically using less space than a conventional plane. Now, DARPA has just introduced another concept, which is also electrical, still more incredible.
The prototype has been created by Aurora Flight Sciences and its provisional name is X-Plane (very futuristic, Yes, but also quite broken). The engine will be the same used the V-22, with 4000 horsepower to be distributed in 24 propellers, 9 on each rear wing, 3 in each previous. It is not intended to include a pilot and will be controlled from the ground, making it in essence in an extremely advanced drone.
These propellers rotated in the takeoff and landing phases for transitioning between these and cruise flight. Why you you interested to DARPA X-Plane? The main reason is that VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) aircraft that they maintain a delicate balance between the speed of flight against the reach and efficiency. Normally you have to sacrifice one for the other two. With the X-Plane, DARPA hopes to obtain a global balance.