Monday, June 24, 2024

DARPA picks two firms to develop experimental X-plane

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has selected Aurora Flight Sciences and Bell Textron to advance in the design of a new experimental aircraft, the X-plane, under its Speed and Runway Independent Technologies (SPRINT) program. Competitors Northrop Grumman and Piasecki Aircraft Corp. were not chosen to move forward.

The SPRINT program aims to create an X-plane that combines high-speed capabilities with runway independence, essential for next-generation air mobility platforms. Bell Textron and Aurora Flight Sciences will now undertake Phase 1B Preliminary Design work over the next year.

Bell Textron has leveraged its experience with High-Speed Vertical Takeoff and Landing (HSVTOL) technology and previous X-plane projects to inform its design for the SPRINT program. The company’s risk reduction testing at Holloman Air Force Base showcased key technologies, including folding rotors, integrated propulsion, and advanced flight control systems.


“Bell is honored to be selected for the next phase of this revolutionary program and ready to execute preliminary design,” said Jason Hurst, executive vice president of Engineering at Bell. The Bell design features a folding rotor system that pivots from vertical lift to propeller mode, with a jet turbofan taking over for high-speed flight. This scalable design ranges from 1,800 kg to over 45,000 kg, comparable to a C-130 aircraft.


Source: Aurora Flight Sciences

, a subsidiary of Boeing, presented a low-drag, fan-in-wing demonstrator integrated into a blended wing body platform. This design merges the agility of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) with high-speed capabilities, aiming to meet DARPA’s ambitious program objectives.

Aurora’s concept includes three lift fans and a composite exterior designed for a seamless transition from vertical to horizontal flight. The uncrewed cockpit allows for extensive testing and risk reduction. The fan-in-wing technology can be scaled to accommodate more lift fans for future aircraft requirements, offering flexibility and potential for a family of systems. The blended wing body platform is designed for 450-knot cruise speed, with embedded lift fans ensuring smooth transitions during flight.

The SPRINT program’s goal is to develop an aircraft capable of operating from unprepared surfaces in austere environments, combining jet-like speeds with runway independence. The X-plane is envisioned to support air mobility and Special Operations Forces (SOF) missions, demonstrating a transformational capability for the US military.

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Executive Editor

About author:

Dylan Malyasov
Dylan Malyasov
Dylan Malyasov is the editor-in-chief of Defence Blog. He is a journalist, an accredited defense advisor, and a consultant. His background as a defense advisor and consultant adds a unique perspective to his journalistic endeavors, ensuring that his reporting is well-informed and authoritative. read more