On the same day that the Pentagon announced that at least 150 Al-Shabab fighters were killed in a drone strike in Somalia comes news that DARPA is looking to take unmanned aircraft to the next level. According to Defense News, “The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has selected Aurora Flight Sciences to build the so-called “X-Plane,” an unmanned aircraft that will take off and land vertically.
DARPA awarded Aurora the prime contract for phase two of the agency’s Vertical Takeoff and Landing Experimental Plane, or VTOL X-Plane, program, the company announced March 3.
The Aurora team’s design, named LightningStrike, is an unmanned aircraft that features a Rolls-Royce AE 1107C turboshaft engine that will power three Honeywell generators, according to a company statement.
Under the agreement, Aurora will develop a technology demonstrator that can fly 50 percent faster than existing VTOL aircraft, the statement reads. Aurora will conduct the first flight tests of the technology demonstrator sometime around 2018.”
A drone capable of attaining speeds in excess of 400 knots would enable it to reach targets faster than a prop-driven unmanned aircraft and would permit it to loiter over a particular site for extended periods of time. Likewise, a VTOL drone would not need an extended hardened runway for takeoffs and landings, making it more flexible and adaptable to different environments.