DARPA seeks leap-ahead VTOL capabilities with new X-plane

DARPA’s new X-plane programme aims to develop and flight demonstrate critical technologies required for a leap ahead in vertical take-off and landing (VTOL), low-weight, high-payload, and long-endurance capabilities.

The programme will be called AdvaNced airCraft Infrastructure-Less Launch And RecoverY, nicknamed Ancillary.

The goal is to build a plane that can launch from ship flight decks and small austere land locations in adverse weather without launch and recovery equipment typically needed for these systems.

“The ability for the warfighter to deploy and retrieve such systems in challenging conditions without reliance on infrastructure would minimise personnel, costs, and vulnerability during sensitive operations,” said Steve Komadina, the DARPA programne manager for Ancillary.

A large non-traditional commercial industry base has fuelled recent VTOL research investments and advanced controls leading to innovative vehicle configurations spanning size, weight, power, and cost.

Advancements in small propulsion systems, high capacity low weight batteries, fuel cells, materials, electronics, and low-cost additive manufacturing can now enable new architectures and designs to be explored in this trade space.

“Ancillary plans to use a multi-disciplinary approach that will bring together developments in advanced control theory, aerodynamic modelling, and advanced propulsion to solve a combination of challenging design objectives,” said Komadina. “The upcoming Proposers Day and Expo on September 20, 2022, will not only bring together traditional aircraft manufactures, but also non-traditional military contractors that have been investigating commercial VTOL solutions.”


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