After several years of development DARPA has successfully completed flight-testing of one of the most novel, and odd-looking, aircraft designs we've seen in some time – the sub-scale electric X-Plane.
After calling for an innovative new approach to an aircraft with vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) capabilities, DARPA awarded its Phase 2 contract to Aurora Flight Sciences in early 2016. Aurora's design includes 24 electric ducted fans, 18 on the main wings and six on the smaller front canards. Both the main wings and the canards are designed to tilt upwards for vertical takeoff before rotating to the horizontal for regular flight.
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The sub-scale demonstrator successfully tested several new innovations including lateral and rearward flight controls, wing and canard tilt mechanisms and sustained hover. The prototype was also used to trial a number of other technologies DARPA has been developing, such as 3D-printed plastics for flight structures and aerodynamic surfaces.
"The aircraft exhibited exceptional flight characteristics, with no loss in altitude even as it transitioned from vertical to horizontal flight," reported Ashish Bagai, DARPA's program manager.
Following the success of these flight tests, DARPA is moving towards developing a full-scale aircraft that will bear the official designation of XV-24A. A few improvements are slated to be incorporated into the full-scale model, most notably a hybrid turboshaft engine to drive the electric generators powering the fan units, as opposed to simple batteries used in the demonstrator model.
The biggest challenge yet to be overcome will be whether the full-scale model can meet the performance objectives DARPA initially set for the project. It is hoped the XV-24A will be able to achieve flight speeds in excess of 300 knots (345 mph, 556 km/h) while carrying a load of at least 40 percent of the aircraft's projected gross weight of around 12,000 pounds (5443 kg).
"These are ambitious performance parameters which we believe will push current technologies to the max and enable a new generation of vertical flight operational capabilities," Bagai notes.
Take a look at the X-Plane demonstrator in full flight below.