VTOL X-Plane Challenge

DARPA VTOL X-Plane Design Search Launches

posted by Paul Fiddian | 28.02.2013

US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency challenges aircraft designers and engineers to produce faster and more efficient next-gen VTOL-capable aircraft

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is seeking proposals for new-generation VTOL-capable aircraft designs.

Identifying the issues that have marred recent vertical takeoff and landing-based designs, DARPA is challenging engineers to innovate in four key development areas.

Just-launched, its VTOL X-Plane programme calls for new experimental aircraft to be designed, developed and demonstrated. Strongly-desired key features include a sustained high-speed flight capability and a highly-efficient hovering capacity.

VTOL X-Plane Challenge

‘The purpose of the program is to champion the design and development of subsystem technologies and integrated air vehicle configurations that will enable radical improvements in VTOL flight', DARPA explained, as it set its VTOL X-Plane challenge in motion.

"For the past 50 years, we have seen jets go higher and faster while VTOL aircraft speeds have flat-lined and designs have become increasingly complex", added DARPA program manager, Ashish Bagai. "To overcome this problem, DARPA has launched the VTOL X-Plane program to challenge industry and innovative engineers to concurrently push the envelope in four areas: speed, hover efficiency, cruise efficiency and useful load capacity."

DARPA VTOL X-Plane Search

In its VTOL X-Plane search press release, DARPA points out that, since they can operate in extremely confined spaces, helicopters and other VTOL platforms are key frontline assets. However, helicopters in particular still aren't that fast and, so, remain vulnerable to enemy fire.

To an extent, the V-22 Osprey tiltrotor design has met the challenges inherent to VTOL design but, now, DARPA is looking to embrace a new breed of VTOL technologies.

"We have not made this easy" Bagai added. "Strapping rockets onto the back of a helicopter is not the type of approach we're looking for. The engineering community is familiar with the numerous attempts in the past that have not worked. This time, rather than tweaking past designs, we are looking for true cross-pollinations of designs and technologies from the fixed-wing and rotary-wing worlds.

"The elegant confluence of these engineering design paradigms is where this program should find some interesting results."

Image copyright US Navy - Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

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