DARPA advances X-plane concept with contract awards

By Linda Hersey / July 13, 2023 at 1:47 PM

Nine defense companies have each won a $750,000 contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to design an autonomous vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft dubbed the "X-plane."

The agency said the awards will fund the six-month initial concept design phase. Contractors will then submit proposals for more detailed design work.

Companies that will advance design concepts are AeroVironment, AVX Aircraft, Griffon Aerospace, Karem Aircraft, Leidos, Method Aeronautics, Northrop Grumman, Piasecki Aircraft and Sikorsky.

The nine “will develop VTOL X-plane designs with Navy and Marine missions in mind,” DARPA said in a June 22 announcement.

Test flights are anticipated to get underway in 2026 for the demonstrator aircraft, which will be expected to perform intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting missions.

The platforms also will support expeditionary and logistical ship-to-shore missions, moving parts and supplies in adverse weather conditions.

“The goal is to build a plane that can launch from ship flight decks and small austere land locations in adverse weather without launch and recovery equipment typically needed for these systems,” DARPA said.

Nicknamed “ANCILLARY,” the initiative is formally known as the “advanced aircraft infrastructure-less launch and recovery program.”