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Updated December 29th, 2023 at 13:43 IST

US' DARPA envisions next-gen vertical landing aircraft with unprecedented speeds

DARPA launched the SPRINT program, collaborating with industry leaders to design a high-speed vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) aircraft surpassing the Osprey

Yuvraj Tyagi
Osprey Cockpit
Osprey Cockpit | Image:U.S. Indo-Pacific Command
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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has initiated the SPRINT program, collaborating with industry leaders Aurora Flight Sciences, Bell Textron, Northrop Grumman, and Piasecki Aircraft Corp. The program aims to design an experimental vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft capable of surpassing the V-22 Osprey's speed. Contracts, valued between $15 million to $20 million, were awarded in November, with the goal of having a prototype ready for its inaugural flight by spring 2027.

DARPA's SPRINT program seeks to achieve speeds between 400 and 450 knots, significantly surpassing the V-22 Osprey's maximum speed of 270 knots. The selected companies, including Bell Textron and Aurora, are encouraged to explore various design aspects, such as crewed or uncrewed, autonomous or semi-autonomous configurations. The focus lies on the aircraft's ability to hover, maintain stability, transition between hovering and forward flight, and employ a distributed power system during transitions. 

Wide latitude for creativity and innovation 

Competing companies, like Bell Textron and Aurora, have significant flexibility in their approach to meeting SPRINT's ambitious goals. Concept art and preliminary releases showcase diverse strategies, from Bell's tiltrotor design to Aurora's high-lift, low-drag, fan-in-wing aircraft. The program's initial phase involves a six-month conceptual design, with a subsequent review in May 2024 to assess the feasibility of achieving a first flight by 2027.

Credit- U.S. Indo-Pacific Command

The high-speed vertical lift aircraft developed under SPRINT could find applications in various military operations, including special operations, mobility, logistics, personnel recovery, medical transport, and evacuation missions. These aircraft could excel in scenarios demanding quick deployment and extraction from unconventional locations without traditional runways. While the project's outcome remains uncertain, DARPA aims to push the boundaries of current technology, with the hope that successful innovations may contribute to future programs of record.

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DARPA's Commander Ian Higgins acknowledged the inherent challenges in SPRINT, emphasizing the agency's role in posing ambitious problems that may redefine the current state of the art. The collaborative effort with industry leaders reflects a commitment to exploring groundbreaking technologies with potential applications in addressing future military needs. As the SPRINT program progresses, the aerospace industry awaits the unveiling of cutting-edge designs that could revolutionize vertical takeoff and landing capabilities, paving the way for a new era in military aviation. 

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Published December 29th, 2023 at 13:43 IST

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