Commercial, Military

Aurora Flies Scaled-Down Version of DARPA’s VTOL X-Plane

By Juliet Van Wagenen | April 19, 2016
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Aurora's VTOL X-Plane subscale vehicle demonstrator
Aurora’s VTOL X-Plane subscale vehicle demonstrator. Photo: Aurora

[Avionics Today 04-19-2016] Aurora Flight Sciences’ successfully flew its Subscale Vehicle Demonstrator (SVD) of its LightningStrike, Vertical Take-off and Landing Experimental Plane (VTOL x-plane) for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) at a U.S. military facility. The flight of the subscale aircraft met an important DARPA risk reduction requirement, focusing on validation of the aerodynamic design and flight control system.

“Our design’s distributed electric propulsion system involves breaking new ground with a flight control system requiring a complex set of control effectors. This first flight is an important, initial confirmation that both the flight controls and aerodynamic design are aligning with our design predictions,” said Tom Clancy, Aurora’s chief technology officer.

The subscale aircraft weighs 325 pounds and is a 20 percent scale flight model of the full-scale demonstrator Aurora will build for DARPA in the next 24 months. The wing and canard of the subscale vehicle use a hybrid structure of carbon fiber and 3D printed Fused Deposit Modeling (FDM) plastics to achieve highly complex structural and aerodynamic surfaces with minimal weight. Aurora personnel located in a nearby ground control station with oversight and coordination by U.S. government officials including DARPA personnel controlled the unmanned aircraft takeoff, hover and landing.

The program seeks to develop a vertical takeoff and landing demonstrator aircraft that will achieve a top sustained flight speed of 300 to 400 knots, with 60 to 75 percent increase in hover efficiency over existing VTOL aircraft. Aurora’s design is for the first aircraft in aviation history to demonstrate distributed hybrid-electric propulsion using an innovative synchronous electric-drive system. Having successfully completed the subscale demonstrator flight, Aurora’s LightningStrike team will focus over the next year on further validation of flight control system and configuration of the full scale VTOL X-Plane demonstrator.

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