The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded the Phase II contract for the vertical take-off and landing experimental aircraft (VTOL X-Plane) to Aurora Flight Sciences.
Under the terms of the deal, DARPA will use the conceptual design of the unmanned vehicle proposed by the company.
Aurora’s design encompasses two large rear wings and two smaller front canards, with short winglets mounted near the nose of the aircraft.
The aircraft will be equipped with a turboshaft engine- similar to the one used in V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft that would drive 24 ducted fans, nine integrated into each wing and three inside each canard.
Additionally, the wings and the canards have been designed to be capable of rotating to direct fan thrust according to the requirement.
The design concept aims at enhanced flying capability to perform a wide range of missions.
DARPA programme manager Ashish Bagai said: "Just when we thought it had all been done before, the Aurora team found room for invention, truly new elements of engineering and technology that show enormous promise for demonstration on actual flight vehicles.
"This is an extremely novel approach.
"It will be very challenging to demonstrate, but it has the potential to move the technology needle the farthest and provide some of the greatest spinoff opportunities for other vertical flight and aviation products."
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 three-phase programme has been allocated a budget of $130m; the Phase I contracts were worth $47m.
Phase II will include design, development and integration of the aircraft while flight-test demonstrations will be undertaken in Phase III by February 2018.
Image: An artist’s rendering of VTOL aircraft. Photo: courtesy of DARPA.