DARPA Launches Seaborne Heavy-Lift Aircraft Project

The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) has launched a long-range heavy-lift marine aircraft project.

The Liberty Lifter project seeks to incorporate the high-speed, heavy airlift capabilities of current transport aircraft without the need to take off and land on a runway.

Offers Operational Flexibility 

With no runway and port facilities required, the aircraft will be able to offer operational flexibility and faster transit time. 

When issuing its request for information for the aircraft last year, DARPA observed that current aircraft “require transit times of days to weeks and are dependent on attendant facilities such as highly developed ports,” limiting their capability to support maritime operation.

“This first phase of the Liberty Lifter program will define the unique seaplane’s range, payloads, and other parameters,” DARPA Tactical Technology Office program manager Alexander Walan said. 

“Innovative advances envisioned by this new DARPA program will showcase an X-plane demonstrator that offers warfighters new capabilities during extended maritime operations.”

‘Wing In Ground’ Effect Aircraft

The low-cost aircraft will be built based on Wing In Ground effect (WIG) vehicles such as the Soviet “ekranoplans” that glide over water or a surface by exploiting the aerodynamic thrust a craft generates when in close proximity with a surface.

However, unlike the WIG aircraft, the X-plane will be maneuverable and be able to operate in choppy waters. 

“Emphasis will be placed on operating in turbulent sea states by creating high-lift abilities at low speeds to reduce wave impact load during takeoff/landing, and innovative design solutions to absorb wave forces,” DARPA explained. 

Moreover, the plane will avoid vehicle collision risk during “high-speed operation in congested environments.”


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