DARPA Unveils New VTOL Aircraft Competitors

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DARPA declared the winning competitors for Phase 1A of its SPRINT project, who were chosen to design and build a prototype VTOL.

DARPA explained in a press release that the objective of the SPRINT program (Speed and Runway Independent Technologies) is to design, build, certify, and fly an X-plane to demonstrate enabling technologies and integrated concepts necessary for a transformational combination of aircraft speed and runway independence for the next generation of air mobility platforms.

According to Interesting Engineering, DARPA has been very specific when it comes to the requirements for the SPRINT demonstrator, demanding the aircraft be able to reach a top speed of at least 740 kph at altitudes between 4,500-9,000 meters and have a payload capacity of at least 454 kg. It should also be scalable for different mission types and have a flight time of at least 90 minutes, with a range of at least 370 km.

Additionally, it needs to have the capabilities of high-speed cruising, hovering in austere environments, and launching or landing on unprepared surfaces like parking lots, highways, or fields.

The selected companies (who received $15 million to develop their concepts for Phase 1A) include Aurora Flight Sciences, Bell Textron, Northrop Grumman Aeronautic Systems, and Piasecki Aircraft Corporation. The list will shorten during the next few months, and a final winner will be chosen to proceed with building the aircraft, which is expected to launch in 2027.

Some examples of the existing project suggestions include Aurora Flight Sciences’ blended wing body shape aircraft, and Bell Textron’s High-Speed VTOL hybrid aircraft, which combines vertical takeoff and landing and hovering capabilities with a high-speed jet propulsion system for fast cruising. According to Interesting Engineering, this is the most likely winner so far.