ARLINGTON, Va. – U.S. military researchers needed an X-plane to demonstrate enabling technologies in speed and runway independence for future crewed and unmanned aircraft. They found their solution from Aurora Flight Sciences Corp. in Manassas, Va.
Officials of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va. announced a $2.9 million contract to Aurora Flight Sciences this week for the SPeed and Runway INdependent Technologies (SPRINT) program.
Aurora engineers will design, build, certify, and fly an X-plane to demonstrate enabling technologies for a combination of aircraft speed and runway independence for the next generation of crewed and unmanned aircraft.
The company will describe a scaled experimental X-plane demonstrator to validate the enabling technologies at a relevant size, and reach first flight of the demonstrator by April 2027.
Aurora engineers first will focus on conceptual design, then will work on selected X-plane designs, and finally on limited detailed design. Several contractors are expected for SPRINT's early development, who will compete for later development.
Enabling technologies that Aurora will develop may help enable an aircraft to cruise at speeds from 400 to 450 knots, hover in austere environments, and switch quickly between these modes of operation.
The SPRINT X-plane is not to be a pre-production aircraft, but instead will be a proof-of-concept technology demonstrator to validate technologies that can scale to different-size military aircraft.
The runway-independent SPRINT X-plane should have useable flight hours left after the DARPA flight demonstration, and likely will be turned over to U.S. Special Operations Command for further evaluation.