DARPA Wants Novel Vertical-Takeoff Jet

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DARPA Wants Novel Vertical-Takeoff Jet
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DARPA Vertical Take-Off and Landing concept art.

Imagine a fighter jet that can hover, lift, and land like a helicopter while still maintaining lightning-quick speeds, a wide mission range, and good fuel efficiency. Now, go design it!   

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is looking for aerodynamic engineers to design, develop, and demonstrate a vertical take off and landing (VTOL) experimental aircraft.

Ashish Bagai, the manager of the newly announced program from DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, said the X-Plane program was launched to challenge the industry and get engineers thinking about the development of an aircraft that possesses both hover and cruise efficiency as well as speed and a useful load capacity.

“Strapping rockets onto the back of a helicopter is not the type of approach we’re looking for,” Bagai said. “The engineering community is familiar with the numerous attempts in the past that have not worked.

This time, rather than tweaking past designs, we are looking for true cross-pollinations of designs and technologies from the fixed-wing and rotary-wing worlds.”

The military has dreamed about this type of aircraft for the past half a century, but engineers have failed so far to come up with a vehicle that can maneuver in tight spaces, land in unprepared areas, move in all directions, and hover in midair while holding a position.

The typical design obstacles faced by aerodynamics engineers working on such X-Planes include lowered fuel efficiency, and less lift capacity, controllability, simplicity, and reliability of design.

DARPA hopes that this time around, engineers will be able to design a VTOL aircraft that would allow special operation units to be transported both quickly and safely. They also imagine such a vehicle being used as a reliably quick transport option for medical units that transport patients to care facilities.

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