WASHINGTON, March 21 (UPI) -- The U.S. military has awarded four contracts to design an experimental high speed, heavy payload vertical takeoff and landing aircraft.
The Phase 1 VTOL X-Plane contracts from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency were awarded to Aurora Flight Sciences Corp., Boeing, Karem Aircraft Inc. and Sikorsky Aircraft Corp.
DARPA said the companies had previously proposed designs for unmanned vehicles, but the technologies that VTOL X-Plane intends to develop could apply equally well to manned aircraft
Under the awards, the companies have until late next year to submit preliminary designs for the experimental plane. Following a review, one will be chosen as a technology demonstrator.
DARPA said it plans for flight tests of the demonstrator to take place in 2017 and 2018.
VTOL X-Plane program seeks to develop a technology demonstrator that could achieve a top sustained flight speed of 300 knots to 400 knots per hour, have a hover efficiency from 60 percent to at least 75 percent, possess an enhanced cruise lift-to-drag ratio of at least 10, up from the current 5-6, and a load capacity of at least 40 percent of the vehicle's projected gross weight of 10,000 to 12,000 pounds.
"The proposals we've chosen aim to create new technologies and incorporate existing ones that VTOL designs so far have not succeeded in developing," said Ashish Bagai, DARPA program manager. "We're eager to see if the performers can integrate their ideas into designs that could potentially achieve the performance goals we've set."