US Military Advancing VTOL Drone Development

The U.S. military is advancing development of vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) UAV systems, with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and U.S. Navy being involved in several leading edge VTOL drone programs.

VTOL X-Plane

One of the programs of interest is the DARPA lead VTOL Experimental Plane (VTOL X-Plane) program is a cross-pollination between fixed-wing and rotary-wing technologies tasked with developing and integrating novel subsystems to enable radical improvements in vertical and cruising flight capabilities.  An important step in the project  was reached when DARPA has awarded the Phase 2 contract for VTOL X-Plane to Aurora Flight Sciences (A Boeing Company).  According to Aurora’s website, the LightningStrike design VTOL is the first aircraft in history designed to demonstrate:

  • Distributed hybrid-electric propulsion ducted fans
  • Innovative synchronous electric-drive system
  • Both tilt wing and canard for vertical take-off and landing
  • High efficiency in both hover and high-speed forward flight

Above is a DARPA VTOL concept video for the LightningStrike

Artist Concept of the LightningStrike VTOL
DARPA VTOL Drone Concept Image
Image: Aurora Flight Sciences

The LightningStrike VTOL X-Plane test of design in 2016

Sources: DARPA, Aurora Flight Sciences

Other Military VTOL Projects

* Tern

U.S Navy military drone Tern concept image
Image: Artist Concept

Another VTOL project, the U.S. Navy and DARPA Tern (Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node) program, has presented a VTOL flying-wing type drone design and given a team led by Northrop Grumman Corporation the opportunity to build a full-scale demonstration system.
READ MORE: U.S. Navy Flying-Wing Drone Moving Closer to Reality

* MQ-8C Fire Scout

Fire Scout

According to Norhrop Grumman, Fire Scout is a combat proven, autonomous helicopter system that provides real-time Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Target-acquisition (ISR&T), laser designation, and battle management to tactical users without relying on manned aircraft or space-based assets. Fire Scout has the ability operate from any air-capable ship or land base in support persistent ISR&T requirements.
In April 2017, according to Northrop Grumman press release, the MQ-8C Fire Scout successfully completed the first flight from a Littoral Combat Ship when it took to the air from the U.S. Navy’s USS Montgomery (LCS-8).
READ MORE about the MQ-8C: Fire Scout First Shipboard Flight

READ MORE: Top 10 Military Drones