DARPA’s Unmanned VTOL X-Plane Can Take Off Like a Helicopter and Fly Like a Jet

By: | May 3rd, 2016

At present, only drones have the capability to take off vertically.

The idea of an aircraft with vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capabilities has been around for decades. But each attempt in this direction has failed miserably due to an inferior payload, speed, stability, range, or their ability to do any useful work.

But the VTOL X-Plane from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, DARPA, plans to overcome all these challenges with its experimental unmanned VTOL X-Plane prototype.

The VTOL X-Plane has 24 engines to help it take off vertically with its rotary wing technology and then switch into a fixed wing aircraft in mid-air.

It has two big rear wings and two small front canards, comprised of cells that feature 24 ducted fans. Nine fans are placed in each wing and three inside each canard. Each have their own electric motor, and all 24 are powered by a turboshaft engine (the one used in V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft) to provide 3 megawatts or 4,000 horsepower of electrical power, equivalent to an average commercial wind turbine.

The wings and canards can alter the thrust of each fan – rearward for forward flight or downward for hovering.

DARPA has planned flight tests of the VTOL X-Plane for 2018.

Ashish Bagai, DARPA program manager says, “This VTOL X-plane won’t be in volume production in the next few years but is important for the future capabilities it could enable. Imagine electric aircraft that are more quiet, fuel-efficient and adaptable and are capable of runway-independent operations. We want to open up whole new design and mission spaces freed from prior constraints, and enable new VTOL aircraft systems and subsystems.”

Nidhi Goyal

Nidhi is a gold medalist Post Graduate in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. You can also find Nidhi on Google+.

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