Darpa's new 24-motor Lightning Strike drone made its debut flight, successfully proving that the vertical take-off and landing theory can be achieved in reality. The model aircraft is one-fifth in size of the actual prototype, which is slated to arrive in 2018.
The model scale, designed and developed by Aurora Flight Science, has 24 propeller fans, which enable the 325 pound VTOL aircraft to take off and land vertically. The Darpa contract awarded Aurora to $89.4m (£62.9m) to design the aircraft incorporates engineering designs from both airplane and helicopter flight technology, the Daily Mail reported.
"The successful subscale aircraft flight was an important and exciting step for Aurora and our customer," said Tom Clancy, Aurora's chief technology officer. "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 controls and aerodynamic design are aligning with our design predictions."
The prototype unmanned aircraft, when completed, will also be designed to carry thousands of pounds of cargo and fly at cruise speeds of 460mph. The drone is powered completely by electricity and looks not unlike a bizarre hybrid tech baby sired by an airplane and a helicopter. The scale model, although smaller in size, looks fairly similar to the prototype. It has two short wings, located near the nose of the drone, each of which has nine fans and a turboshaft engine, capable of running at 4,000 horsepower. The drone design also incorporates carbon fibre and 3D printed FDM plastics to "achieve highly complex structural and aerodynamic surfaces with minimal weight".
The vertical take-off and landing test having been successful, Aurora now plans to focus on developing the full scale prototype of the VTOL drone for Darpa, which the aviation firm hopes to launch in 2018.