DARPA X-Plane project is now a quartet with three new competitors

Late last year we mentioned that DARPA was working on a new project to create a next generation vertical takeoff and landing aircraft or VTOL. The project is called X-Plane and the goal is to design aircraft that can take off and land like a helicopter but fly much faster than a helicopter.

Last year when we first talked about the X-Plane program, it had one company with a contract awarded. That company was helicopter maker Sikorsky. DARPA has now selected three other firms to participate in the program including Boeing, Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation, and Karem Aircraft, Inc.

All three of these firms submitted designs that are for unmanned aircraft. However, the designs have elements that could be used on manned aircraft as well. DARPA paid out a total of $47 million for phase one of the project for development of concept designs. The agency has a budget of $130 million for the 52-month program.

DARPA wants aircraft with a top sustained flight speed for the X-Plane beyond the current 173-196 mph max for VTOL aircraft. DARPA is looking for top speeds of 345 to 460 mph, improved hover efficiency from 60% to at least 75%, and a payload of 40% of the projected gross weight of the aircraft ranging from 10000 to 12000 pounds. Preliminary designs from all four firms will be submitted by 2015 with first test flights happening in 2017 or 2018.

SOURCE: Information Week