DARPA’s New Drone Concept Has 24 Engines

Yet somehow, the VTOL X-Plane still looks cool.

byWill Sabel Courtney| PUBLISHED Mar 4, 2016 9:15 PM
DARPA’s New Drone Concept Has 24 Engines

At first glance, DARPA's newest vertical-take off-and-landing (or VTOL, as the aviation buffs call it) plane concept looks like one of those old-timey flying contraptions from the turn of the 20th Century. But if all goes according to plan, instead of being relegated to a History Channel special called "Great Failures in Flight," this 24-engined plane might just usher in a new era in aviation.

The plane is a big win for Aurora Flight Sciences, the small aviation company that beat out Boeing, Karem Aircraft, and the joint team of Lockheed Martin for the $89 million contact to build the second and third stage of DARPA's VTOL X-plane project. Aurora's plane, an unmanned drone aircraft dubbed "Lightning Strike," is designed to increase speeds by 50 percent over current VTOL aircraft like the V-22 Osprey.

"If successful, VTOL X-Plane’s radically improved flight capabilities could lead to revolutionary advancement of the U.S. military’s future mission capabilities," Aurora Flight Sciences CEO John Langford said.

The Lightning Strike spaces its 24 hybrid-electric propulsion units across both its rear-mounted wings and its front-mounted canards. Both wings and canards swivel between vertical and horizontal orientations, allowing the plane to take off and land vertically like a helicopter, yet fly fast and level like a traditional airplane.

Aurora says they intend to have physical versions of the Lightning Strike in the air by September 2018. In the meantime, we're content watching this computer animation of the drone strutting its theoretical stuff—and hope the real thing is as cool as its CGI counterpart.