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Darpa selects teams for new autonomous VTOL X-plane

Illustration: Northrop Grumman

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded grants to nine companies to develop an autonomous Vertical Take-Off and Landing Unmanned Aerial System (VTOL UAS) with the ability to operate from a mobile sea vessel, even in adverse weather conditions.

Under DARPA’s AdvaNced airCraft Infrastructure-Less Launch And RecoverY (ANCILLARY) program, Northrop Grumman, along with eight other contractors including AeroVironment, AVX Aircraft, Griffon Aerospace, Karem Aircraft, Leidos, Method Aeronautics, Piasecki Aircraft, and Sikorsky, has been chosen to develop designs with a focus on naval and marine missions.

The ANCILLARY program specifically calls for a maritime Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) that can be deployed and retrieved without the need for launchers or landing/recovery equipment

The Northrop Grumman proposed a system that will have the ability to carry a 60-pound sensor payload, providing an endurance of 20 hours on station and a mission radius range of 100 nautical miles, all without the need for supplementary infrastructure equipment.

The aircraft’s primary functions will be focused on intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) missions, as well as targeting operations, stated the company.

Additionally, it will support expeditionary tasks for special operations forces and enable cost-effective logistics by facilitating the transportation of parts and supplies during ship-to-shore transitions.

“The major challenge is developing an integrated flight vehicle that meets the hard objective of combining VTOL, long endurance, and large payload while also meeting requirements for shipboard storage and operations.

“A key element is the propulsion system, which needs to have enough power to lift the X-plane vertically while also being extremely efficient in forward flight when power needs are lower,” stated the program manager for ANCILLARY, Steve Komadina.