Aurora’s subscale X-Plane Aircraft with 3D-printed parts successfully flown  

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Advanced aerospace vehicles developer Aurora Flight Sciences has announced that a subscale vehicle demonstrator (SVD) of its LightingStrike, Vertical Take-off and Landing Experimental Plane (VTOL x-plane) for the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was successfully flown at a US military facility.

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Aurora Chief Technical Officer Tom Clancy said the flight of the subscale aircraft met an important DARPA risk reduction requirement, focusing on validation of the aerodynamic design and flight control system.

“The successful subscale flight was an important and exciting step forward for Aurora and our customer,” Mr Clancy said.

“Our design’s distributed electric propulsion system involves breaking new ground with a flight control system requiring a complex set of control effectors. This first flight is an important, initial confirmation that both the flight control and aerodynamic design are aligning with our design predictions.”

Aurora said that the subscale aircraft weighs 325 pounds and is a 20% scale flight model of the full scale demonstrator that the company will build for DARPA in the next two years.

“The wing and canard of the subscale vehicle utilise a hybrid structure of carbon fibre and 3D printed FDM plastics to achieve highly complex structural and aerodynamic surfaces with minimal weight,” the company said in a statement to the ASX.

“The unmanned aircraft take-off, hover and landing was controlled by Aurora personnel located in a nearby ground control station with oversight and coordination by US government officials including DARPA personnel.”

On March 3, 2016, DARPA awarded the Phase II contract for the VTOL X-Plane contract to Aurora, following a multi-year, Phase I design competition.

The program aims to develop a vertical take-off and landing demonstrator aircraft that will achieve a top sustained flight speed of 300kt – 400 kt, with 60-75% increase in hover efficiency over existing VTOL aircraft.

Aurora’s design is for the first aircraft in aviation history to demonstrate distributed hybrid-electric propulsion using an innovative synchronous electric-drive system.

“Having successfully completed the subscale demonstrator flight, Aurora’s LightingStrike team will focus over the next year on further validation of flight control system and configuration of the full scale VTOL X-Plane demonstrator.”