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    Aurora Advances in High-Speed, Vertical Takeoff X-plane Endeavor for DARPA

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    Aurora Flight Sciences has completed the conceptual design of an experimental vertical-takeoff-and-landing plane for the Pentagon and is progressing to the next phase.

    The company’s blended-wing design for the SPRINT (Speed and Runway Independent Technologies) program will now enter the preliminary design process, according to a statement made by Aurora on Monday.

    The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) aims for its SPRINT vertical takeoff aircraft, known as the X-plane, to achieve speeds between 400 and 450 knots, significantly surpassing the V-22 Osprey’s top speed of 270 knots.

    The SPRINT aircraft should also maintain stable hovering, transition smoothly from hovering to forward flight, and include a distributed energy system to power all propulsion technologies during this transition, as stated by a DARPA official to Defense News in December 2023.

    DARPA is allowing companies the flexibility to design their aircraft as crewed, uncrewed, or capable of autonomous flight.

    In November 2023, DARPA awarded six-month contracts to four companies—Boeing subsidiary Aurora, Bell Textron, Northrop Grumman, and Piasecki Aircraft Corp.—to develop their conceptual designs.

    On April 30, DARPA granted Aurora a $25 million contract modification to continue developing its version of the SPRINT program, significantly increasing its initial funding from $4.2 million.

    Currently, Aurora is the only company to receive an additional contract for the SPRINT program, though others may follow.

    In December, DARPA indicated that at least one of the four competing companies would be eliminated after the conceptual design phase. The agency declined to comment on potential future SPRINT contract awards on Tuesday.

    Aurora’s blended-wing aircraft design incorporates three embedded lift fans for vertical flight, which then transition to a set of embedded engines for forward flight.

    This design reduces drag and enables high-speed flight, making it ideal for air mobility and special operations missions, according to the company.

    On Monday, Aurora unveiled new concept art showing its uncrewed aircraft with a composite exterior, capable of reaching a cruise speed of 450 knots.

    The company stated that it could add more lift fans to its fan-in-wing design to meet changing military requirements and could also develop a crewed version using the same fan technology.

    Aurora’s SPRINT team aims to complete the preliminary design review in about a year and achieve the first flight within three years. In contrast, Bell is pursuing a different approach for SPRINT, having released concept art in November 2023 depicting a tiltrotor design similar to the traditional Osprey aircraft.

    Additionally, DARPA awarded Aurora an $8.3 million contract modification earlier this month to continue developing the Liberty Lifter, an experimental heavy cargo seaplane.

    Relevant articles:
    Aurora moves into next design phase for DARPA vertical takeoff X-plane, Defense News
    Aurora advances in DARPA competition to build high-speed VTOL X-plane, FlightGlobal
    Aurora Reveals New Renderings Of Latest X-Plane Design For DARPA SPRINT Program, The Aviationist
    DARPA Aurora High Speed Vertical Takeoff X-plane, NextBigFuture.com

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