DARPA Selects Competitors for VTOL X-Plane

Image by Aurora Flight Sciences

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) selected four competitors for the Speed and Runway Independent Technologies (SPRINT) project. The contract includes the design, building, and testing of an SPRINT X-Plane demonstrator. As stated, “The goal of the programme is to provide these aircraft with the ability to cruise at speeds from 400 to 450 knots [741 to 833 km/h] at relevant altitudes and hover in austere environments from unprepared surfaces,”. Furthermore, the agency is partnering with the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM).

The companies selected are Aurora Flight Sciences, Bell Textron, Northrop Grumman Aeronautic Systems, and Piasecki Aircraft Corporation. These will share funding of US$ 15 million for the development of their designs for Phase 1A. A winner will be selected in the following months, while the test program will finish in 2028. Hence, the Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences has already provided a sketch, while Bell Textron is developing a High-Speed Vertical Take-Off and Landing (HSVTOL) project. It is still not known what the other two companies are planning to offer. The contract awards for the Phase 1B will be issued in May 2024.

Some of the technical requirements of the demonstrator include a top speed of 400 knots, a minimum payload capacity of a minimum of 1,000 lb (454 kg), ability to reach altitudes of 15,000-30,000 ft (~4,500-9,100 meters), a minimum range of 230 miles (370 km), and a flight time of at least 90 minutes. However, it is not specified if it will be autonomous, piloted, or remotely controlled.

In an official press release, DARPA stated that “The objective of the SPRINT program is to design, build, certify, and fly an X-plane to demonstrate enabling technologies and integrated concepts necessary for a transformational combination of aircraft speed and runway independence for the next generation of air mobility platforms,

Ashton Henning

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