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Fast VTOL programme takes off in US

Four companies have been selected to develop the next generation of vertical take off and landing aircraft for the US military.

Boeing, Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation, Karem Aircraft and Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation have been selected by DARPA (the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) for phase one of a development program that aims to increase the top speed of VTOL aircraft without sacrificing range or efficiency.

In a statement Ashish Bagai, DARPA program manager said: ‘The proposals we’ve chosen aim to create new technologies and incorporate existing ones that VTOL designs so far have not succeeded in developing. We’re eager to see if the performers can integrate their ideas into designs that could potentially achieve the performance goals we’ve set.’

DARPA’s VTOL Experimental Plane (VTOL X-Plane) program requires an aircraft that can achieve a top sustained flight speed of 300kt to 400kt, raise aircraft hover efficiency from 60 per cent to at least 75 per cent, present a more favourable cruise lift-to-drag ratio, and carry a useful load of at least 40 per cent of the vehicle’s projected gross weight of 10,000-12,000 pounds

According to DARPA, all four winning companies proposed designs for unmanned vehicles, but the technologies that VTOL X-Plane intends to develop could apply to manned aircraft. Another common element among the designs is that they all incorporate multipurpose technologies that help decrease the number of systems in a vehicle, leading to more efficient use of space and weight.

The next major milestone for VTOL X-Plane is scheduled for late 2015, when the four companies are required to submit preliminary designs. DARPA will then review the designs and decide which to build as a technology demonstrator, with the goal of performing flight tests in the 2017-18.

Readers' comments (11)

  • Perhaps had the british government not made the overnight decision to scrap the harrier fleet, more develpment of that airframe could have met all the requirements above.

    Vertical Take Off - Check
    Speed - > 600 Knts - Check
    Lift / Drag ratio for cruise - Check

    Carry useful load (10/12k lbs) - Check

    Some work required for autonomous / unmanned ops and removing unwanted military systems, but the basics are still there to meet the requirements.

    I appreciate the Harrier (AV8B) is still in use but BAE would possibly be able to provide more impetus and be in a better position for this sort of work if government didn't slash one of our most valuable air /sea assets.

    Aircraft Carriers without aircraft - Whatever next!!!

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  • Wind the clock back to the end of the 1950's, the Fairey Rotodyne had its first flight in 1957. Could carry up to 40 passengers, cruise speed of 185mph, range 450 miles. Cancelled in 1959. What could have been developed from that original design over 57 years to now?

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  • Not to mention the supersonic Harrier variant cancelled in Labour's 1960s attempt to eliminate the UK aircraft industry altogether.

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  • We would have had some pretty good silencers by now!

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  • Very sad. Why do we fail to capitalise on our technological success.
    Whether it be rail, automotive, aerospace we loose out only for foreign companies to take over.

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  • "Why do we (in the UK) fail to capitalize on our tech successes?"

    I think the fact that the UK was, for decades post WWII, in hock to the usa and they had an interest in buying technology from us for themselves so that we could not fully capitalize on it. See carbon fiber, stealth, liquid armors and advanced air-breathing engines for more details.
    That era is now over since the UK repaid its WWII war debt in 2007!!!
    Expect the UK to now reap what it sows more often. See Hybrid Air Vehicles Ltd's airship and SABRE for more details.
    The UK now doesn't appear to have a large, kindly frenemy standing on its neck...

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  • The most criminal part of the Labour Governments scrapping of the TSR2 and the P1154 Supersonic Harrier was they agreed to the US demand that all the jigs were to be destroyed within weeks of the decision. I was a 17 year old apprentice at the time and saw for myself the brand new jigs in the factory cordoned off ready to go into production producing a world class unique aeroplane. Within weeks they were taken out and cut up. A significant minister was asked if he was aware that Hawkers were that advanced and prepared for production his reply was he had no idea. So much for governments making quality decisions. TSR2 was also actually flying and probably too far advanced for the US so that went too. If I remember the Wilson Labour Government were desperate to borrow money from the US and the above was the price the Labour Gov were prepared to pay. What's changed 50 years later we still cancel or scrap or give away our greatest achievements for others to make the money. Notwithstanding the above it is a great country!!!

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  • Q. Why not simple take the Harrier engine, remove the Harrier airframe and put it above a simple cargo-carrying pod, with no pilot, and duct the jet as in the original Harrier, down for VTOL and backwards for cruise but with new 21st century avionics?

    Is build a new airframe around a tried-and-tested, battle-tested engine too difficult for someone?

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  • I am grateful to Mel Wilby for confirming what I had long suspected about TSR2. One comment that a RAF Pilot (no names, no pack drill !) made was that the advanced TSR2 and its Terrain Following Radar was so capable, that Pilot Blackout was experienced when crossing hedgerows at maximum speed !

    Notwithstanding the past, David H Parry makes a sensible case. Looking back many years, to the English Electric Lightning Interceptors - they were basically engines with fuel pods and a pilot, and although fuel-thirsty, were the best Interceptors of their time.

    The UK Programme Manager receiving back the US-modified (remove some of the Safety Limiters) and upgraded Harriers was a Neighbour of mine. He would concur with the plan to utilise the excellent Harrier engine system, with a modern structure and avionics.

    Like the Vulcan bomber (which overflies my home each year), just because a Technology is OLD doesn't mean that its Principles cannot be re-used.

    The UK has an excellent reputation for Innovation - furthermore, the US often recruits UK Engineers to develop and run its Special Programmes (the Stealth Fighters and Bombers, plus the Space Shuttle, are two notable examples - they used British Engineers from Cranfield to Head those Programmes).

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  • I read all these comments with their quasi-political undertones (overtones?) and ask myself whether a recent blogger got it right:
    "if we carry on as we are, the UK could be the best defended bankrupt country in the world!" Yes, the US is a powerful allay, but...decisions aimed first furthering their interests (the industrio-military complex) are always more important than that of their allies - from NOT sharing the Atom Bomb secrets (even though UK scientists and Engineers made substantial contributions) to the jig destruction described by another blogger as the price for a loan!

    I am also sufficiently old to recall the TSR2-indeed was working as a vac student at Bristol Siddeley et al when it was in final development. If I recall Dennis Healey, a Labour defense minister highly regarded by the military establishment did comment apropos the ship-building programme that had WWIII broken out, there would not be a UK ship afloat anywhere in European waters after 20 minutes!

    Would someone, more knowledgeable than I please tell me what all this stuff is for? Is it to give us influence?

    As I have posted before: last time I looked I did not see a fleet of Japanese or German flagged aircraft-carriers or submarines patrolling our shores (or anyone else's for that matter) but by no stretch of anyone's imagination (even our bloggers) can those Nations be described as without influence?
    Hey Ho
    Mike B

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