|Posted by Omar Bilonashvili on March 19, 2016 at 2:40 PM|
The VTOL X-Plane is the result of Aurora Flight Sciences Corporation's Phase 2 design contract for the program and is aimed at addressing both vertical and horizontal flight requiements. DARPA says that by calling on over half a century of advanced air vehicle and aeromechanics design and testing, adaptive and reconfigurable control systems, and highly integrated designs, the VTOL X-Plane does away with conventional mechanical drive systems in favor of a modular approach.
What this means is that instead of a single powerplant directly powering one or two rotors by way of a shaft, the VTOL X-Plane has two large rear wings and two smaller front canards. These are made up of cells carrying 24 ducted fans – nine integrated in each wing and three in each canard. These each have their own electric motor and all 24 are powered by a turboshaft engine off a V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, which cranks out 4,000 hp (3 MW) of electrical power.
To control this arrangement, the VTOL X-Plane has power distribution systems for multiple fans in a "transmission-agnostic air vehicle design." That means no gearbox, so the flight control system must be able to alter the thrust of each fan independently for efficiency as well as for changing from vertical to horizontal flight and back.
"This VTOL X-plane won't be in volume production in the next few years but is important for the future capabilities it could enable," said Ashish Bagai, DARPA program manager. "Imagine electric aircraft that are more quiet, fuel-efficient and adaptable and are capable of runway-independent operations. We want to open up whole new design and mission spaces freed from prior constraints, and enable new VTOL aircraft systems and subsystems."
Flight tests are scheduled for 2018 and DARPA says that the VTOL X-Plane technology is also suitable for manned aircraft.
The animation below shows the DARPA VTOL X-Plane in action.