AI News, DARPA's Newest X-Plane Concepts Are All Robots

DARPA's Newest X-Plane Concepts Are All Robots

Yesterday, DARPA announced the four companies that'll be competing to develop a new experimental aircraft that combines the efficiency of an airplane with the versatility of a helicopter.

in a contest based on speed, efficiency, and payload, including a human pilot would be a significant disadvantage: humans are fragile and require a lot of maintenance, and it's becoming increasingly arguable that a human in an aircraft has the potential to be more of a liability than an asset, at least in some cases, which may include (say) cargo delivery into dangerous areas.

“The proposals we’ve chosen aim to create new technologies and incorporate existing ones that VTOL designs so far have not succeeded in developing.

VTOL X-Plane Program Takes Off

For generations, new designs for vertical takeoff and landing aircraft have remained unable to increase top speed without sacrificing range, efficiency or the ability to do useful work.

DARPA’s VTOL Experimental Plane (VTOL X-Plane) program seeks to overcome these challenges through innovative cross-pollination between the fixed-wing and rotary-wing worlds, to enable radical improvements in vertical and cruise flight capabilities.

VTOL X-Plane seeks to develop a technology demonstrator that could: All four winning companies proposed designs for unmanned vehicles, but the technologies that VTOL X-Plane intends to develop could apply equally well to manned aircraft.

DARPA Completes Testing of Subscale Hybrid Electric VTOL X-Plane

DARPA has completed flight-testing of a sub-scale version of a novel aircraft design as part of its vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) X-Plane program, and is proceeding with work to develop a full-scale version of the groundbreaking plane.

Developed and fabricated by Aurora Flight Sciences, the revolutionary aircraft includes 24 electric ducted fans—18 distributed within the main wings and six in the canard surfaces, with the wings and canards tilting upwards for vertical flight and rotating to a horizontal position for wing-borne flight.

Subscale testing began on the VTOL program in March of 2016 and the first phase of testing ended after six flights with demonstration of auto take off, sustained hover, directional and translational control (including lateral and rearward flight), waypoint navigation, and auto landing.

In addition to serving as a flight controls systems developmental aircraft, the VTOL subscale demonstrator advanced a number of technologies such as 3D-printed plastics for flight structures and aerodynamic surfaces as well as embedded distributed electric propulsion.

The XV-24A will weigh 12,000 pounds compared to the demonstrator’s 322 pounds, and will aim to demonstrate specific performance objectives stipulated by DARPA: flight speeds in excess of 300 knots, full hover and vertical flight capabilities, and—relative to helicopters—a 25 percent improvement in hovering efficiency and 50 percent reduction in system drag losses during cruise.

Darpa X-plane to radically rethink vertical takeoff

Imagine an aircraft that combines a helicopter’s ability to takeoff and land from almost anywhere, with the speed and range of a fixed wing aircraft.

In fact, so many efforts have been made to get a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft off the ground that even advocates of the concept often refer to the “wheel of misfortune,”

This week, the agency announced a new X-plane program, which will seek to build a prototype aircraft to demonstrate a better VTOL design.

This time, rather than tweaking past designs, we are looking for true cross-pollinations of designs and technologies from the fixed-wing and rotary-wing worlds.”

VTOL concepts over the years have included various ingenious solutions for powering and lifting these craft including tilt-rotor aircraft, tilt-wing, vectored thrust, tilt prop and tilt jets, just to name a few.

Many of the schemes, which combine rotors and wings, or involve tilting some component of the aircraft, make for technically elaborate designs that are often impractical to operate and fly.

It has long been the tradition of the agency to tackle significant engineering challenges, such as robotics and hypersonics, multiple times until something works.

Moreover, the appeal of a VTOL aircraft is simple: helicopters offer the unique ability to take-off and land without an airstrip, providing the military with access to places where fixed-wing aircraft can’t land, while fixed-wing aircraft offer greater speed and range.

Richard Hallion, a former senior advisor to the US Air Force and aerospace historian says there have been improvements in established technology over the years - composite materials, fly-by-wire flight controls, and better propulsion - which may make past VTOL concepts now feasible.

No one denies that the road to VTOL aircraft is littered with the corpses of past aircraft, including several Darpa programs, but proponents argue that that’s the whole point of the new initiative.

Mark Moore, a Nasa engineer who has specialized in VTOL aircraft for three decades, says he’s excited about Darpa’s plans, but cautions that the example included in a graphic announcing the programme, showing a fan-in-wing design, is not likely the solution.

“If you start with a clean sheet and ask: what is the art of the possible, and throw open the door to unconventional approaches, you get a lot more creative ideas, and a lot more innovative ideas,”

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