The Pentagon announced it awarded a contract for more than $89 million this week to Aurora Flight Sciences to work toward an X-plane — essentially a plane-helicopter hybrid — that would feature vertical takeoff and landing. Aurora landed the contract for a second and third phase of research on the X-plane, beating out competitor Sikorsky.
Tech Insider pointed out that the VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) X-plane would share DNA with the military's V-22 Osprey, which can take off and land like a helicopter but fly like an airplane. But unlike the Osprey, the X-plane would be operated remotely — like the military's drones — and could be a potential game changer for missions to remove wounded soldiers from areas under enemy fire.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) complimented Aurora in its press release Thursday. “Just when we thought it had all been done before, the Aurora team found room for invention — truly new elements of engineering and technology that show enormous promise for demonstration on actual flight vehicles,” said Ashish Bagai, DARPA program manager.
Two of the stated goals for the X-plane are to have it fly at speeds ranging from 345 mph to 460 mph — about a 50 percent increase over current VTOL aircraft — and be able to carry a load at least 40 percent of its projected weight of 10,000-12,000 pounds.
“If successful, VTOL X-Plane’s radically improved flight capabilities could lead to revolutionary advancement of the U.S. military’s future mission capabilities,” Aurora CEO Dr. John Langford said in a statement. “We’re honored to have been selected by DARPA to build and flight test the demonstrator aircraft.”
The company said the unmanned aircraft would be called LightningStrike. Right now the plane is still in the concept stages, with 2018 set as the target for building and testing.
Watch a video of the concept aircraft below: