This Bonkers High-Speed X-Plane Combines a Jet’s Speed With an VTOL’s Agility

Boeing has an exciting new aircraft in the pipeline.

The aerospace company and its research subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences just unveiled a “game-changing” X-plane that combines the agility of Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft with the speed of a 747 jet.

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The new concept is being developed for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Speed and Runway Independent Technologies (SPRINT) program. The main aim of SPRINT is to create an X-plane that can help to improve aircraft speed and runway independence. Aurora’s concept will not be a production model but rather a demonstrator that will test technologies for military aircraft. Aurora says such technologies will allow these aircraft to cruise at 400 to 450 knots (460 to 518 mph) at relevant altitudes, hover in austere environments, and land in tight spaces. That speed and agility will prove particularly useful in Special Operations Forces (SOF) missions.

Boeing Aurora SPRINT X-Plane
Three lift fans in the wings enable vertical flight.

“The DARPA SPRINT program is an exciting opportunity to continue our history of advancing technology demonstrator programs that enable new capabilities for the U.S. military,” Larry Wirsing, vice president of aircraft development at Aurora Flight Sciences, said in a statement.

The demonstrator features a sleek composite exterior and a low-drag, blended-wing body. Three lift fans have been incorporated into the wings to enable vertical flight. The embedded lift fans are also equipped with integrated covers that ensure a smooth transition from vertical to horizontal flight. (Aurora says four or more lift fans could also be added to meet future aircraft requirements.) In addition, the aircraft will be capable of super short take-offs and landings and conventional take-offs and touchdowns. It will also be expected to carry 5,000 pounds up to 450 knots (518 mph).

The demonstrator will be remotely piloted during testing to reduce risk, though Aurora says future designs could be crewed. The plane will also use existing engines to shorten the production timeline and lower the chance of complications. The team expects to complete their preliminary design review for the SPRINT program in approximately 12 months, with the goal of first flight in 36 months.

This isn’t the only X-plane Aurora is working on, either. The company also created an aircraft for DARPA’s Control of Revolutionary Aircraft with Novel Effectors (CRANE) program. The streamlined X-65 uses active flow control to accomplish all maneuvers instead of flaps and rudders. Aurora expects to launch a full-scale 7,000-pound demonstrator capable of flying at 467 knots (537 mph) by summer 2025.

Expect to see a couple of X-planes soaring through the skies soon, then.

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