DARPA is planning to invest $150 million to develop a new vertical take-off and landing aircraft called the VTOL X-Plane. The project is the latest attempt to solve a long-standing engineering challenge: how to design an aircraft that can take-off, land and hover like a helicopter, but that can fly at top speed once in the air.
There have been a number of prior VTOL craft either in development or tested over the years. The most well-known may be the V-22 Osprey, a tiltorotor model that could convert from helicopter mode into a turboprop airplane.
With X-Plane, DARPA hopes to spur the industry to develop all-new designs that would result in a vehicle that could travel at more than 300 knots, with better hover and cruise efficiency than current helicopters. The craft could travel more quickly from point to point with less risk of being damaged by enemy weapons, while providing the ability to transport troops and be used in search and rescue missions in the same way helicopters are currently utilized.
According to Ashish Bagai, DARPA program manager:
“We have not made this easy. Strapping rockets onto the back of a helicopter is not the type of approach we’re looking for. The engineering community is familiar with the numerous attempts in the past that have not worked. This time, rather than tweaking past designs, we are looking for true cross-pollinations of designs and technologies from the fixed-wing and rotary-wing worlds. The elegant confluence of these engineering design paradigms is where this program should find some interesting results.”
You can see the official solicitation here.