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Sunday, June 1, 2008

Rotorcraft Report: Darpa Seeks Rutan’s Help With 350-Kt Groen Heliplane

MILITARY

To hear the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency tell it, the financial troubles of very-light-jet manufacturer Adam Aircraft came at a good time for its Heliplane R&D project.

Adam’s fixed-wing, twin-jet A700 was the baseline for that project, which aims to develop a rotorcraft capable of flying at 350 kt, flying an unrefueled range of 1,000 nm and carrying a payload of 1,000 lb. But Adam shut the doors of its factory at Englewood, Colo.’s Centennial Airport on Feb. 11 and filed for liquidation under U.S. Bankruptcy Court rules. It has since been bought by a group that includes Russian investors.

Adam’s collapse came as Heliplane project officials were concluding that they were better off working with a newly designed airframe instead of a modified one, according to a top Darpa executive. That confluence led to the project hiring Scaled Composites, the Mojave, Calif.-based company founded by famed aircraft designer Burt Rutan, to build its baseline aircraft. The latest in Rutan’s series of spectacular projects is a partnership with airline and entertainment entrepreneur Richard Branson to build a fleet of vehicles to carry tourists into space.

Heliplane, a multi-year, $40-million, four-phase program, is led by Salt Lake City-based autogiro maker Groen Brothers Aviation and includes engine maker Williams International, Georgia Institute of Technology and researchers from Washington University in St. Louis, Pennsylvania State University and the University of Maryland. Heliplane has received support from NASA’s Ames Research Center and the U.S. Army’s Aero-Flight Dynamics Directorate there.

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