It seems like the age of unmanned military aircraft has really arrived, as the Pentagon's research firm, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), just selected the organization's next aircraft for its ongoing X-Plane project, which has been looking for advanced, innovative designs that are both effective and efficient.
Beating out big names in the aircraft industry such as Boeing and Sikorsky, Aurora Flight Sciences and their rather unusual looking aircraft, the hybrid-powered LightningStrike, ultimately won DARPA's $89 million contract.
Aurora's LightningStrike is quite unlike any other VTOL aircraft that has been constructed before. Featuring a whopping 24 spinning rotors housed in its innovative movable wings, the six-ton aircraft has the capability of being the next big thing in unmanned military air technology.
From the renderings that have been released by the company, the appearance of the LightningStrike is set to be quite unconventional, with its primary wings positioned at the far end of the plane and its forewings placed in front of the machine, making it look almost backward when flying compared to common airplane designs.
Of course, the LightningStrike's primary feature is its repertoire of propellers, which are housed in both the primary and the forewings. Due to its design, which involves the aircraft being powered electronically by a Rolls-Royce AE 1107C turboshaft engine and three Honeywell electric generators, the airplane will be able to properly manage and handle the 24 propellers that are housed in its wings.
LightningStrike's wings are capable of rotating horizontally and vertically, depending on the operating needs of the airplane. With such technology, the LightningStrike would be able to take off and land on small patches of ground, making the aircraft extremely flexible for various types of operations.
Though the airplane is simply a "hybrid-electric" machine, it is nonetheless set to be far lighter and more silent than its fully mechanical counterparts, such as the U.S. military's V-22 and MV-22 Osprey, which are widely used today. Aurora has even stated that the machine's target speed is about 300 knots (345 mph), very formidable for a VTOL aircraft.
Ashish Bagai, program manager of DARPA's Tactical Technology Office, believes that creating the aircraft will be a venture that is both interesting and challenging.
"What you're starting to see here are designs and configurations and applications of technologies that have never been done before. think we have our work cut out for us," he said.
Provided that there will be no significant roadblocks in the creation of the hybrid-electric VTOL, Aurora is hoping to start test flights of the LightningStrike around 2018.