Aurora Flight Sciences ($14 mil­lion)

Air & Space Smithsonian - - In The Museum -

John Lang­ford’s com­pany is de­vel­op­ing the most un­con­ven­tional en­try: a hy­brid elec­tric tilt-wing air­craft us­ing an avant­garde form of thrust called dis­trib­uted elec­tric propul­sion, some­thing NASA is also ex­per­i­ment­ing with. The thrust for Light­ningstrike, as Aurora calls its de­sign, will be pro­duced by 24 ducted fans, 18 em­bed­ded in the tilt­ing wing and another six in a tilt­ing ca­nard. The fans are to be driven by three megawatts of elec­tric­ity, equiv­a­lent to 4,023 horse­power, pro­duced by three gen­er­a­tors pow­ered by a sin­gle Rolls-royce AE 1107 tur­bine en­gine, the one used on the V-22 Osprey. No bat­ter­ies re­quired.

“It is a strange- look­ing air­plane,” Lang­ford al­lows, but “one of the things dis­trib­uted elec­tric propul­sion gives you is this in­cred­i­ble free­dom to in­te­grate the aero­dy­nam­ics and propul­sion to­gether.” The amount of power sent to each of the 18 wing fans (31 inches in di­am­e­ter), and to the ca­nard fans (21 inches in di­am­e­ter), can be var­ied ac­cord­ing to com­plex al­go­rithms ex­e­cuted uted by triply re­dun­dant flight con­trol com­put­ers. mput­ers. “There’s es­sen­tially a noz­zle at the he back of each of these, and you can change­hange the thrust of each of these in­di­vid­u­ally, di­vid­u­ally, so you can change the liftift dis­tri­bu­tion and you can gett very pow­er­ful con­trols,” Lang­ford angford says. The con­fig­u­ra­tion,ura­tion, he adds, “al­lows ws you to op­er­ate each hpiece piece of that wing ng at its max­i­mum um per­for­mance ce con­di­tion through­out the hover and the tran­si­tion and the for­ward flight regime,” so you avoid los­ing lift be­cause, say, a ro­tor is blow­ing down on the wing.

For the VXP com­pe­ti­tion, the Light­ningstrike is un­manned and fully au­ton­o­mous; no re­mote con­trol pi­lot, as is used with the Preda­tor and many other un­manned air­craft. But add a cock­pit and the Light­ningstrike can be manned. It can also ac­com­mo­date a cabin be­tween the wing and ca­nard, able to carry six troops or pas­sen­gers. Lang­ford adds that the de­sign can be easily scaled up or down; the in­di­vid­ual lift fans “al­most be­come like Le­gos. You can add or sub­tract them.”

Un­like the other en­trants, Aurora built a one-fifth-scale model demon­stra­tor— made largely with 3D print­ing—and as of press time planned test flights in Septem­ber at Naval Air Sta­tion Patux­ent River, Mary­land, to val­i­date data col­lected in wind tun­nel tests. The Light­ningstrike will be “as ma­neu­ver­able and ag­ile as a he­li­copter, cer­tainly,” says Carl Schaefer, Aurora’s pro­gram man­ager, “but I think where you’ll see it most ma­neu­ver­able and ag­ile is in its for­ward flight regime. It’s got tremen­dous roll rates, very good pitch rates. It’s a sports car, frankly.”

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