Boeing Subsidiary's New X-Plane Sprints to Next Design Phase

The project aims to design, build and fly an speedy aircraft that doesn't rely on a runway for takeoff and landing.

Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences has wrapped up the conceptual design review for a new high-speed X-plane that can liftoff vertically. So far, the development has been a success, and the concept has been chosen to continue work on a preliminary design review.

The X-plane is being developed for DARPA's SPRINT program, which stands for Speed and Runway Independent Technologies. The project aims to design, build and fly an aircraft that is fast and doesn't rely on a runway for takeoff and landing.

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    Aurora's concept is a low-drag, fan-in-wing demonstrator that integrates a blended wing body platform, combining the agility of a VTOL, a vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, with unprecedented speed.

    The blended wing platform can reach a 450-knot cruise speed, and embedded lift fans have integrated covers that enable a smooth transition from vertical to horizontal flight. The aircraft isn't just a VTOL. It can also perform short takeoff and vertical landings (STOVL), super short takeoff and landings (SSTOL), and conventional takeoff and landings.

    According to new renderings, the demonstrator aircraft has three lift fans, a refined composite exterior and an uncrewed cockpit. Aurora specified three lift fans to simplify the demonstrator and streamline its path to flight test. 

    The team will lean on existing engine solutions to shorten development risk and timelines. Aurora expects the preliminary design review to be completed in 12 months, with the first flight coming within three years. 

    The technology could be scaled to four or more lift fans to meet future aircraft requirements. Also, while Aurora picked an uncrewed demonstrator to make testing easier and less risky, the fan-in-wing technology could transfer to crewed aircraft.

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