Aerospace Daily & Defense Report

Watch: Aurora Flies Subscale Model Hybrid-Electric VTOL Aircraft


Aurora Flight Sciences has flown a subscale model of its LightningStrike hybrid-electric distributed propulsion vertical-takeoff-and-landing (VTOL) experimental aircraft, selected in March to be Darpa's high-speed VTOL X-Plane.

The hover flight of the 20%-scale battery-powered model “met an important Darpa risk-reduction requirement, focusing on validation of the aerodynamic design and flight control system,” the company says.


“Our design’s distributed electric propulsion system involves breaking new ground with a flight control system requiring a complex set of control effectors. This first flight is an important, initial confirmation that both the flight controls and aerodynamic design are aligning with our design predictions,” says Tom Clancy, Aurora’s chief technology officer.

The 400-kt. LightningStrike marries tilting tandem wings with hybrid-electric distributed propulsion. The X-plane has a single Rolls-Royce AE1107 turboshaft driving three 1-megawatt electrical generators that power 24 variable-pitch ducted fans – 18 in the wing and six in the canard.

The subscale model has batteries and fixed-pitch fans, but uses a single-channel version of the X-plane’s triplex flight control system and the same control laws. A half-span version of the scaled model has been tested in the wind tunnel at the University of Maryland.

The wing and canard of the subscale vehicle have a hybrid structure of carbon fiber and 3-D-printed plastics to achieve complex structural and aerodynamic surfaces with minimal weight. The vertical takeoff, hover and landing was controlled by Aurora personnel in a nearby ground control station.

Flight testing of the subscale model will demonstrate the low-speed side of the transition between vertical and forward flight. The subscale aircraft should be fully wing-borne at 80 kt., and the full-scale vehicle at 100 kt., Aurora says.

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