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​An artist rendering of a Vertical Takeoff and Landing Experimental Plane, VTOL X-Plane. DARPA photo.

​The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded Aurora Flight Sciences a contract for p​hase two of its Vertical Takeoff and Landing Experimental Plane program, known as VTOL X-Plane, the agency announced. “Just when we thought it had all been done before, the Aurora team found room for invention—truly new elements of engineering and technology that show enormous promise for demonstration on actual flight vehicles,” said Ashish Bagai, the DARPA program manager. DARPA launched the VTOL X-Plane program in 2013 to find a way to improve VTOL capabilities by increasing speed without sacrificing range, efficiency, or usefulness. The agency is seeking a technology demonstrator that can achieve a top sustained flight speed of 300 to 400 knots, raise aircraft hover efficiency from 60 percent to at least 75 percent, present a more favorable cruise lift-to-drag ratio, and carry a payload of at least 40 percent of the vehicle’s gross weight, according to the agency. The design, which Bagai called “an extremely novel approach,” is an unmanned aircraft with two large rear wings and two smaller short winglets near the nose of the aircraft. The planned engine is a turboshaft engine used in the V-22 Osprey. (See previously: DARPA Tasks Industry to Design Speedy Hybrid Helo.)