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Defeating Boeing And Others, Aurora Bags $89.3 Million VTOL X-Plane Deal

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March 5
2:24 AM 2016

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has announced on Thursday awarding the Phase 2 and 3 contracts to Aurora Flight Sciences (AFS). The $89.4 million contract is for DARPA's unmanned VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) X-Plane concept project. The program has the goal of performing flight tests within the 2018 timeframe.

DARPA aims to override the two hurdles for the warplanes- flight speed versus range and fuel efficiency versus power with the X-Plane. Its ultimate aim is to make the VTOL platform more functional on the battlefield, reports Engadget.

Four teams have been vying since the project initiated in 2013. But three of them have passed the preliminary design review phase including Aurora.

Boeing has offered its tilting ducted-fan Phantom Swift while Lockheed-Sikorsky has proposed its Rotor Blown Wing tail-sitter. However, Aurora has proposed its hybrid-propulsion "LightningStrike" while Karem Aircraft has backed its TR36XP, according to a report published in Flightglobal.

The VTOL X-plane concepts electric aircraft are quieter, fuel-efficient and adaptable and are capable of runway independent operations. Though the technology demonstrator will be unmanned, VTOL X-Plane platform will also allow the aircraft to run manually, reports Defense Update.

DARPA expects the upcoming demonstrator aircraft will achieve a top sustained flight speed between 300 and 400 knots and a hover efficiency of at least 75%. The research agency under the US Department of Defense also expects boosting its cruise lift-to-drag ratio to 10 and ability to carry at least 4,000-pound weight.

AFS's concept will employ 4,000 HP V-22 engines to generate 3MW electrical power to drive the 24 ductless fans spread across its rear wings and front canards. Rotation of these fans will enable the X-Plane to seamlessly transition from a hover to forward flight. The prototype's flight control technology is derived from Aurora's Centaur and Orion unmanned aircraft programs.

If the VTOL X-Plane project gets successful, radically improved flight capabilities are expected leading to revolutionary advancement in the US military's future mission capabilities. John Langford, the Aurora CEO, has expressed feeling honored to have been selected by DARPA to build and test-flight the demonstrator aircraft. He has also expressed feeling proud to support DARPA while approaching for a breakthrough in aviation technology.

Aurora has been designing LightningStrike in Manassas, Virginia and the prototype will be built in Columbus, Mississippi. Meanwhile, Mark Wilson, chief operating officer of Rolls-Royce LibertyWorks and Carey Smith, president of Honeywell Defense and Space, have also expressed their pride to be on the winning Aurora team.

The VTOL X-Plane concepts electric aircraft are quieter, fuel-efficient and adaptable and are capable of runway independent operations. But if the project gets successful, a new breakthrough in the history of aviation technology will be achieved. However, AFS has won the $89.4 million deal from DARPA for designing and flight testing of its unmanned prototype. 

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