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DARPA developing small vertical-takeoff aircraft for military use

The U.S. Defense Advanced STUDIES Agency, or DARPA, is wanting to create a revolutionary new vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft.

This program is called AdvaNced airCraft Infrastructure-Less Launch And RecoverY X-Plane, or ANCILLARY. The ANCILLARY program aims to build up a “leap-ahead” craft that may land and remove in areas without preexisting air bases or other infrastructure, operate in adverse climate, and also deploy from the decks of naval vessels without specialized launch and recovery equipment. DARPA have not stated if this program is intended to build up a crewed or uncrewed craft, but a video released by the agency depicts pilots operating the craft with a tablet, implying a remotely piloted or autonomous vehicle.

Along with these objectives, the ANCILLARY program aims to build up a craft which has a low weight, can carry large payloads, and may stay static in the air for extended periods. The agency has issued a notice inviting proposals from relevant industries and academic organizations for component technologies and manufacturing techniques that this aircraft would require.

Related: NASA starts testing electric air taxi for 1st time

Steve Komadina, the DARPA program manager for ANCILLARY, said in a DARPA statement (opens in new tab) that “the power for the warfighter to deploy and retrieve such systems in challenging conditions without reliance on infrastructure would minimize personnel, costs, and vulnerability during sensitive operations.”

Komadina added that any aircraft stemming from the ANCILLARY program would require combining “developments in advanced control theory, aerodynamic modeling, and advanced propulsion to resolve a variety of challenging design objectives.

A rendering of an advanced vertical takeoff and landing aircraft.

A rendering of a sophisticated vertical takeoff and landing aircraft having an optical sensor ball on its nose. (Image credit: DARPA)

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Several laboratories and manufacturers have already been researching and developing similar VTOL aircraft recently. The U.S. Air Force’s Agility Prime program has been testing remotely piloted VTOL craft (opens in new tab), while NASA has tested its all-electric vertical takeoff and landing “air taxis” produced by California’s Joby Aviation. Such platforms wouldn’t normally require lengthy runways for landing and removing.

These VTOL aircraft could revolutionize flights, potentially minimizing the infrastructure necessary to operate aircraft and reducing the noise connected with traditional rotorcraft like helicopters. In a statement (opens in new tab) published in 2021, NASA claims this class of aircraft could “offer an efficient and affordable system for passenger and cargo transportation, along with other applications in the general public interest” and “include aircraft like package delivery drones, air taxis and medical transport vehicles.”

NASA's Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) National Campaign will help usher in the era of city air travel.

NASA’s Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) National Campaign aims to greatly help usher in the era of city flights. (Image credit: NASA)

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DARPA will hold an invite-only Proposers Day and Expo on Sept. 20 to examine proposals for ANCILLARY program technologies and manufacturing techniques.

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Brett is really a science and technology journalist who’s interested in emerging concepts in spaceflight and aerospace, alternative launch concepts, anti-satellite technologies, and uncrewed systems. Brett’s work has appeared on The War Zone at TheDrive.com, Popular Science, the annals Channel, Science Discovery, and much more. Brett has English degrees from Clemson University and the University of NEW YORK at Charlotte. In his leisure time, Brett is really a working musician, a hobbyist electronics engineer and cosplayer, a devoted LEGO fan, and enjoys hiking and camping through the entire Appalachian Mountains along with his wife and two children.

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