Aircraft

DARPA’s sub-scale VTOL X-Plane prototype completes flight testing

DARPA’s sub-scale VTOL X-Plane...
An artist impression of the full-scale design
An artist impression of the full-scale design
View 4 Images
The VTOL X-plane hovering in place before transitioning to horizontal flight
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The VTOL X-plane hovering in place before transitioning to horizontal flight
An artist impression of the full-scale design
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An artist impression of the full-scale design
An artist impression of the full-scale design
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An artist impression of the full-scale design
A composite image of DARPA's VTOL subscale test aircraft in horizontal flight
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A composite image of DARPA's VTOL subscale test aircraft in horizontal flight

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.

An artist impression of the full-scale design
An artist impression of the full-scale design

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.

A composite image of DARPA's VTOL subscale test aircraft in horizontal flight
A composite image of DARPA's VTOL subscale test aircraft in horizontal flight

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.

Source: DARPA

DARPA Completes Testing of Subscale Hybrid Electric VTOL X-Plane

8 comments
DFrancis
Clearly they've never heard of Colin Chapman's philosophy of "Simply, then add lightness." Nor have they heard of NASA's X-Wing project from last century. Perhaps the X-Wing should be revived as a new design, new build using modern technologies instead of trying to apply an idea to an existing aircraft. A 21st century X-Wing would be more elegant than the X-Plane (and it would sound less like a stadium full of vuvuzelas).
Nik
It looks like a servicing nightmare.
GeorgeLSH
The word "trial" is not a verb! Try is a verb. Test is a verb.
MarkMiller
If you are going to continue to write "technical" articles such as this one, please learn about the use of significant figures when making conversions. For example, to start with 300 MPH (one significant figure) and then show 3 and 4 significant figures in your conversions is not correct. Similarly, 12,000 pounds has only 2 significant figures (five if there had a been a decimal point following the last zero) so the conversions should not have more than 2 significant figures. A check of the topics found with a Google search should be enough to learn how to do it.
ezeflyer
In my experience, DARPA does not make it easy for inventors no matter how advanced an aircraft is, whether there is a model, or whether it is patented. Its daunting paperwork and lack of response makes it very difficult to get a hearing. This excludes inventors like me who don't have a large entity behind them. It is no way to encourage innovation.
ljaques
Hmm, 40% cargo, 10% structure, and 50% of the weight is batteries? Ouch! No mention of flight time/distance or charge time. I wish the demo vid had something to scale it to, because it performed like a 2' long drone. GeorgeLSH, I agree, and hate it when people go around nouning all the poor, innocent gerunds.
Jimjam
Every Frigate in the world could use one of these for reconnaissance/radar. This looks a lot simpler than this other concept aircraft from Aurora Flight Sciences: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Pgz4vCkJgQ
riczero-b
If the fan ducts were different lengths they'd have different resonant frequencies, so you could play a tune on them as you flew along.