In his fantastic article for Air and Space Magazine, Richard Whittle presents a summary of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) next VTOL X-plane competition.
Whittle sets the scene with a brilliant quote from former NYU professor of Aeronautics, Alexander Klemin, which generally states that the ambition of human flight ought to be performance no less than the most agile birds. While in many ways we have surpassed the birds – e.g. speed, payload, altitude, etc. – in some ways – e.g. agility – we have not. DARPAs VTOL X-plane competition seeks to address this.
Richard goes on to discuss the key players: Boeing, Aurora Flight Sciences, Karem Aircraft, and Sikorsky/Lockheed Martin an their respective technologies: the Phantom Switft, LightnightStrike, Optimum Speed Rotor TR36XP tilt rotor, and the worst-name-by-far “Unmanned Rort Blown Wing”.
In the inevitable world of compromises that is aircraft design, each of these VTOL X-plane concepts have their pros and cons. Depending on how DARPA evaluates the entrants, I could see a few designs quickly excelling. For example, I would imagine Boeing’s Phantom Swift will likely have the highest top speed, whereas the tail-sitting Unmanned Rotor Blown Wing will probably have the longest range. Of course, these are completely unfounded guesses based on a few pictures online.
For us here at VTOlforAll, it is worth thinking about how, if, or when these technologies will make the slow transition from X-plane demonstrator, to military production units, and finally into civilian hands. This has been a pretty typical progression over the last few decades, so we can hope that any cool new VTOL hardware DARPA helps to develop today might take a similar path.
Of course, that will take a long time and cost a lot of money. A lot of time and a lot of money is not the focus of VTOLforAll. Let’s watch this X-plane space, but try to keep developing our own VTOL aircraft at a faster pace and lower budget.