Aurora Flies Subscale VTOL X-Plane For DARPA At U.S. Facility

Aurora Flight Sciences successfully flew a subscale vehicle demonstrator (SVD) of its LightningStrike Vertical Take-off and Landing Experimental Plane (VTOL X-Plane) at a U.S. military facility for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the company said Monday.

The flight was meant to meet a DARPA risk reduction requirement for the test craft that focused on validation of the aerodynamics design and flight control system.

The 20 percent scale model of the Aurora LightningStrike Vertical Take-off and Landing Experimental Plane (VTOL X-Plane) was tested in April. Photo: Aurora Flight Sciences .

The 20 percent scale model of the Aurora LightningStrike Vertical Take-off and Landing Experimental Plane (VTOL X-Plane) was tested in April. Photo: Aurora Flight Sciences .

The SVD is a 20 percent scale flight, weighing 325 pounds, model of the full scale demonstrator Aurora intends to build for DARPA over the next 24 months, the company said.

The VTOL X-Plane LightningStrike program is meant to develop a VTOL demonstrator aircraft that can achieve a top sustained flight speed of 300-400 kt, with a 60-75 percent increase in hover efficiency over existing VTOL aircraft.

Aurora highlighted the vehicle’s wing and canard used a hybrid structure of carbon fiber and 3D printed FDM plastics to realize complex structural and aerodynamics surfaces with minimal weight.

During the test, company personnel at a nearby ground station controlled the vehicle’s take-off, hover, and landing. Government officials, including DARPA personnel, provided oversight and coordination for the test.

“The successful subscale aircraft flight was an important and exciting step for Aurora and our customer. Our design’s distributed electric propulsion system involves breaking new ground with a flight control system requiring a complex set of control effectors,” Tom Clancy, Aurora’s chief technology officer, said in a statement.

“This first flight is an important, initial confirmation that both the flight controls and aerodynamic design are aligning with our design predictions,” Clancy added.

DARPA first announced the award of the Phase II contract for the VTOL X-Plane contract to Aurora on March 3. This followed a multi-year, Phase I design competition.

The company noted its aircraft design is for the first aircraft in aviation history to demonstrate distributed hybrid-electric propulsion using “an innovative synchronous electric-drive system.”

With this SVD test completed, the company will now focus on further validation of flight control system and configuration of the full scale LightningStrike demonstrator over the next year.

More Stories You Might Like