Aurora completes first flight of VTOL X-plane prototype


VTOL-X plane

Aurora Flight Sciences has completed the first flight of a subscale vehicle demonstrator (SVD) of vertical take-off and landing experimental plane (VTOL X-plane) for the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Weighing 325lb, the 20% scale flight prototype of the unmanned vehicle designated as LightningStrike completed the maiden flight at a US military facility.

Marking a critical milestone in the development of DARPA's VTOL X-plane, the SVD met the research agency's risk reduction requirement.

Additionally, the test validated the aerodynamic design and flight control system of the newly designed aircraft.

Aurora is scheduled to build the full-scale demonstrator for DARPA in the next 24 months.

Aurora chief technology officer Tom Clancy said: "The successful subscale aircraft flight was an important and exciting step for Aurora and our customer.

"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."

"This first flight is an important, initial confirmation that both the flight controls and aerodynamic design are aligning with our design predictions."

The LightningStrike vehicle features two large rear wings and two smaller front canards, with short winglets mounted near the nose of the aircraft.

DARPA envisages the X-Plane to have useful load capacity of 40% of the vehicle's gross weight, cruise lift-to-drag ratio of ten or more and twice the aerodynamic efficiency of the existing VTOL aircraft.

The Phase II will include design, development and integration of the aircraft while flight-test demonstrations will be undertaken in Phase III by February 2018.

The three-phase programme has been allocated a budget of $130m; the Phase I contracts were worth $47m.


Image: Aurora's VTOL X-Plane subscale vehicle demonstrator. Photo: courtesy of Aurora Flight Sciences.