Updated 11:29 AM EDT, Tue, Jun 16, 2020

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LightningStrike VTOL ‘Electric Aerial Drone’ Set to Revolutionize Flight


(Photo : DARPA) Scale model of the XV-24A LightningStrike Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) X-Plane.

The first flight of a scale model of an unmanned, tiltrotor Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft using hybrid-electric propulsion is being swiftly advanced by the use of cutting-edge technologies.

The full scale XV-24A LightningStrike Vertical Take-off and Landing (VTOL) X-Plane will be an unmanned aerial vehicle with the speed of an airplane and the unique VTOL characteristics of a helicopter.  It's being developed for the United States military.

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A 20 percent scale model demonstrator of the LightningStrike flew successfully last March in Maryland. It flew for only five minute but was able to validate a number of key technologies for the full-scale aircraft. Among these technologies were the tilt wing/tilt canard configuration; aerodynamics; avionics architecture and flight control algorithms.

In March 2016, the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded Aurora Flight Sciences the prime contract for Phase 2 of the DARPA's Vertical Takeoff and Landing Experimental Plane (VTOL X-Plane) program. This program seeks to provide a 50 percent increase in speed over existing VTOL aircraft.

The full-scale military LightningStrike will be 12,000 pounds compared to the 325 pound demonstrator. It will be powered by an electric distributed propulsion system in which 24 variable-pitch ducted fans driven by electric motors provide thrust for both hover and cruise.

A Rolls-Royce AE 1107C turboshaft engine, the same engine used in the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey, will drive three Honeywell generators that power wing and canard electric motors. 

The operational XV-24A will be twice as fast as a helicopter with a top sustained flight speed of 740 km/h. It will be the first aircraft to demonstrate distributed hybrid-electric propulsion using a synchronous electric-drive system.

Aurora CEO John Langford believes the XV-24 might ultimately contribute to a variant that emerges as a mainstay of the United States Armed Forces. 

Tests will be conducted for the full-scale aircraft in 2018. 

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