DARPA Moves Forward with Vertical Takeoff and Landing Electric Aircraft

DARPA's X-Plane 1 photo
Photo: Screenshot from YouTube
Elon Musk might have some serious competition for his alleged plan to create an electric plane as his next big project, as DARPA has just unveiled its latest concept design for a vertical takeoff and landing aircraft that uses electrically driven propellers.
However, we doubt that Elon Musk, should he pursue this path at any point in the future, would use the same propulsion system as DARPA's (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) virtual prototype. Judging by his current views, Tesla's CEO would definitely oppose the use of a combustion engine that acts as an onboard generator for the propellers.

But that's exactly what this concept aircraft, called the X-Plane, does. It's got a 4,000 horsepower engine - the same one used on the V-22 Osprey, the only propeller-driven vertical takeoff and landing aircraft in use - that's supposed to develop 3 megawatts of electricity to be used by the 24 fans spread the whole length of the two main wings.

The X-Plane's creators, Aurora Flight Sciences, hopes it will achieve speeds between 300 and 400 knots (345 to 460 mph or 550 to 740 km/h), while also being able to carry a 4,000 lb (approximately 1,800 kg) payload. Equally important will be the plane's ability to move more silently than regular aircraft, due to the small size of the propellers and them being ducted.

But the main selling point of the X-Plane will undoubtedly be the fact that it can take off and land vertically, thus needing a very small area to operate as opposed to a conventional runway. It most definitely won't be its design, though, as saying it looks weird is like saying Siberia is chilly in the winter. It certainly is a departure from the classic aircraft shapes we've been used to, but then again, so were the SR-71 Blackbird, for example, not to mention the F-117 Nighthawk stealth bomber back in their days.

"This VTOL X-plane won't be in volume production in the next few years but is important for the future capabilities it could enable," said DARPA program manager, Ashish Bagai, quoted by Engadget. "Imagine electric aircraft that are more quiet, fuel-efficient and adaptable and are capable of runway-independent operations. We want to open up whole new design and mission spaces freed from prior constraints, and enable new VTOL aircraft systems and subsystems."

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About the author: Vlad Mitrache
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"Boy meets car, boy loves car, boy gets journalism degree and starts job writing and editing at a car magazine" - 5/5. (Vlad Mitrache if he was a movie)
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