Uncrewed Aircraft Systems (UAS) | Autonomy | Experimental Aircraft | Flight Testing

Preliminary Design Phase Begins for Vertical-Lift X-Plane

The low-drag, fan-in-wing X-plane from Aurora Flight Sciences will begin a preliminary design review, integrating a blended wing body platform and combining VTOL with impressive speed By Abi Wylie / 22 May 2024
Preliminary Design Phase Begins for Vertical-Lift X-Plane
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Aurora Flight Sciences has completed the conceptual design review for the company’s high-speed, vertical lift X-plane, and will continue development of a preliminary design review. 

The aircraft is being developed for a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program called Speed and Runway Independent Technologies (SPRINT), which “aims to design, build, and fly an X-plane to demonstrate the key technologies and integrated concepts that enable a transformational combination of aircraft speed and runway independence.”

Aurora’s concept is a low-drag, fan-in-wing demonstrator that integrates a blended wing body platform, combining the agility of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) with unprecedented speed

The team’s approach seeks to set the program on the path to successful flight and demonstrate game-changing capability for air mobility and Special Operations Forces (SOF) missions.

New renderings of the fan-in-wing (FIW) demonstrator reveal three lift fans, a more refined, composite exterior; and an uncrewed cockpit. The choice of three lift fans reflects the team’s strategy to simplify the demonstrator and streamline its path to flight test. 

The FIW technology could be scaled to four or more lift fans to meet future aircraft requirements, and it could unlock opportunities for a future family of systems. Similarly, while an uncrewed demonstrator offers benefits in testing and risk reduction, the FIW technology would be fully transferrable to traditional aircraft with crews.

Aurora’s concept is designed to meet or exceed the challenging program objectives that DARPA set for the program. For example, the blended wing body platform is capable of 450 knot cruise speed, and the embedded lift fans with integrated covers allow a smooth transition from vertical to horizontal flight. 

The design also leverages existing engine solutions, shortening development risk and timelines. In addition to VTOL, the aircraft is capable of short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL), super short take-off and landing (SSTOL), and conventional take-off and landing.

Aurora and parent company Boeing’s Vertical Lift teams are combining over 30 years of experience in novel VTOL platforms with a proven technology maturation process. The team estimates completion of their preliminary design review for the SPRINT program in approximately 12 months, with the goal of first flight in 36 months.

Larry Wirsing, VP of Aircraft Development at Aurora Flight Science, said; “Aurora and Boeing bring relevant expertise in blended-wing-body platforms, high-speed VTOL configurations, and military aircraft development. 

“The DARPA SPRINT program is an exciting opportunity to continue our history of advancing technology demonstrator programs that enable new capabilities for the U.S. military.”

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