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.