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IPFS News Link • Darpa

DARPA picks competitors for high-speed VTOL X-Plane contract

•, By Loz Blain

The SPRINT X-Plane will be "a proof-of-concept technology demonstrator and its flight test program seeks to validate enabling technologies and integrated concepts that can be scaled to different size military aircraft."

Specific technical requirements for the demonstrator, according to Top War, include a top speed of 400 knots (460 mph/740 km/h) at the very least, at altitudes between 15,000-30,000 ft (4,500-9,000 m), and a payload capacity of at least 1,000 lb (454 kg). It needs to be broadly scalable, across a range of different mission types, and it needs to fly for at least 90 minutes, covering at least 230 miles (370 km) of range.

Propulsion is not specified, and nor is whether the demonstrator should be piloted, remote-controlled or autonomous, but the aircraft needs to combine high-speed cruise with the ability to "hover in austere environments" and launch or land from "unprepared surfaces" like parking lots, highways or fields.

Four companies have been selected to share in US$15 million of funding to develop their concepts for Phase 1A: Aurora Flight Sciences, Bell Textron, Northrop Grumman Aeronautic Systems and Piasecki Aircraft Corporation. These teams will be downselected over the coming months, and a final winner chosen to go forth and build the thing. It's expected to fly in 2027, with the test program to wrap up in 2028.

Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing subsidiary, has already put forth a sketch, shown at the top of this piece, showing the blended wing body shape it's planning to go with. Protected by retractable covers is a fan-based VTOL system built into the wings and body.