Watch DARPA's VTOL Drone Perform Its First Vertical Take-Off
Kelsey D. Atherton
at 08:35 AM Apr 22 2016
Still From LightningStrike VTOL X-Plane's First Flight
Aurora Flight Sciences
Drones // 

The future doesn't need runways. Vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL), a family of technologies that let flying machines do exactly what the name implies, could mean "fixed wing" aircraft that fly and land almost anywhere. DARPA is particularly interested in new vehicles like this, and are funding the unmanned VTOL LightningStrike X-Plane concept from Aurora Flight Sciences. Using many ducted fans, it lifts off into the sky without a need to roll forward an inch:

That's a one-fifth scale model, weighing just 325 pounds. The takeoff and landing are impressive, but I'm hesitant to call it a full flight, as the plane lifts off, hovers, and then lands in roughly the same spot. The biggest challenge for all VTOL planes, and the thing that makes them better than just weirdly built helicopters, is transitioning those engines to forward flight, and taking advantage of lift that way.

Seriously though, why not just build helicopters? Because a fixed-wing aircraft has much greater range and usually better top speed and altitude ceiling than a helicopter or multi-rotor airframe. It all depends on the "application" the military needs the drone for you see...

Aurora has 24 months to work on the design, so there's plenty of time to get that transition down. In the meantime, watch the takeoff and landing below.

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