Commercial, Military

DARPA Designates Aurora as Prime Contractor on VTOL X-Plane Program

By Juliet Van Wagenen | March 4, 2016
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Rendering of Aurora Flight Science’s Vertical Take-Off and Landing Experimental Aircraft
Rendering of Aurora Flight Science’s Vertical Take-Off and Landing Experimental Aircraft. Photo: Aurora

[Avionics Today 03-04-2016] The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has chosen Aurora Flight Sciences as the prime contract for Phase 2 of the Agency’s Vertical Takeoff and Landing Experimental Plane (VTOL X-Plane) program. The VTOL X-Plane seeks to develop a technology demonstrator that could: achieve a top sustained flight speed of 300 kt to 400 kt, raise aircraft hover efficiency from 60 percent to at least 75 percent, and present a more favorable cruise lift-to-drag ratio of at least 10, up from five to six, among other capabilities.

The Aurora team’s design for its unmanned aircraft, named LightningStrike, seeks to provide an approximately 50 percent increase in speed over existing VTOL aircraft designed for comparable mission applications.

“If successful, VTOL X-Plane’s radically improved flight capabilities could lead to revolutionary advancement of the U.S. military’s future mission capabilities. We’re honored to have been selected by DARPA to build and flight test the demonstrator aircraft,” said John Langford, chairman and CEO of Aurora.

The technology demonstrator was designed in close collaboration with Aurora’s team members, Rolls-Royce PLC and Honeywell International Inc. The Aurora-led team intends to deliver a number of aviation milestones with the demonstration aircraft. Pending successful completion of key program milestones to be achieved in close collaboration with DARPA, Aurora plans to conduct the first flight tests of the technology demonstrator in the 2018 timeframe.

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