DARPA develops small vertical take-off aircraft for military use

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, is seeking to develop a revolutionary new vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft.

The program is known as Advanced airCraft Infrastructure-Less Launch And RecoverY X-Plane, or ANCILLARY. The ANCILLARY program aims to develop a “leapfrog” craft that can land and take off in areas without pre-existing airbases or other infrastructure, operate in adverse weather conditions, and even deploy from the decks of warships without specialized equipment. launch and recovery. . DARPA did not say whether the program aims to develop a manned or unmanned craft, but a video released by the agency shows pilots using the craft with a tablet, implying a remotely piloted or autonomous vehicle.

In addition to these goals, the ANCILLARY program aims to develop a craft that has low weight, can carry large payloads, and can stay aloft for long periods of time. The agency issued a notice inviting relevant industries and academic organizations to propose component technologies and manufacturing techniques that such an aircraft would require.

Related: NASA begins testing an electric air taxi for the first time

Steve Komadina, the DARPA program manager for ANCILLARY, said in a DARPA Statement (opens in a new tab) that “the ability for the warfighter to deploy and recover such systems under harsh conditions without reliance on infrastructure would minimize personnel, cost, and vulnerability during sensitive operations”.

Komadina added that any aircraft resulting from the ANCILLAIRE program would require bringing together “developments in advanced control theory, aerodynamic modeling and advanced propulsion to solve a combination of challenging design goals”.

A rendering of an advanced vertical take-off and landing aircraft with an optical sensor ball on its nose. (Image credit: DARPA)

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A number of laboratories and manufacturers have researched and developed similar VTOL aircraft in recent years. The US Air Force’s Agility Prime program was test unmanned VTOL vehicles (opens in a new tab)while NASA tested its own all-electric vertical takeoff and landing”air taxisdeveloped by Joby Aviation of California. Such platforms would not need long runways to land and take off.

These VTOL aircraft could revolutionize air travel, potentially minimizing the infrastructure required to operate aircraft and reducing the noise associated with traditional rotorcraft like helicopters. In a statement (opens in a new tab) released in 2021, NASA says this class of aircraft could “provide an efficient and affordable system for passenger and cargo transportation, and other applications in the public interest” and “include aircraft such as drones of parcel delivery, air taxis and medical transport vehicles”.

NASA’s national Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) campaign aims to help usher in the era of urban air travel. (Image credit: NASA)

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DARPA will host an invitation-only Proponents Day and Expo on September 20 to review proposals for AUXILIARY program technologies and manufacturing techniques.

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