Aurora Notches More DARPA Funding for Its X-Plane Contender

The DARPA program is looking for a candidate that can fly at speeds up to 450 knots, hover ‘in a stable manner’ and transition to forward flight.

Aurora Flight Science aircraft under development for a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program called Speed and Runway Independent Technologies (SPRINT). [Courtesy: Aurora Flight Science]

Defense News has reported Aurora Flight Sciences has completed its conceptual design of an experimental vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft for the Pentagon and is moving on to the next phase.

On April 30, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded Aurora a $25 million contract modification to continue working on its version of the Speed and Runway Independent Technologies (SPRINT) entry, a notable boost from the previous $4.2 million award.

Also referred to as the X-Plane, the program is looking for a candidate that can fly at speeds of 400 to 450 knots (far exceeding the 270-knot maximum speed of the V-22 Osprey) and be able to hover “in a stable manner” and transition from hover to forward flight. The X-Plane will also “feature a distributed energy system that effectively powers all the propulsion technology during that transition,” according to Defense News.

Three other contenders are in the X-Plane hunt: Bell Textron, Northrop Grumman and Piasecki Aircraft. But Aurora, a Boeing subsidiary, is the only competitor to receive upgraded funding.

The new conceptual art released Monday shows an uncrewed aircraft (in contrast with previous concepts that showed cockpit windows) with a composite exterior. Aurora said it could add more fan-in-wing lift fans to the design should Pentagon requirements change in the future. It could also reinstate the crewed aircraft configuration.

Aurora concluded that its SPRINT/X-Plane design team projects finishing the preliminary design review of its entry in about a year, with the goal of first flight within three years.

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on AVweb.

Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

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