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Pentagon Seeks Next-Gen Runway-Independent Aircraft 

The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) seeks a high-speed, runway-independent next-generation aircraft demonstrator.

DARPA is working with the US Special Operations Command on the “SPeed and Runway INdependent Technologies (SPRINT) X-Plane” program to validate scalable concepts and technologies for different size military aircraft.

The SPRINT project intends to develop an air platform that can cruise at over 400 knots (741 kilometers/460 miles per hour), hovering over austere environments that lack runways.

Potential Missions

The need for a runway-independent aircraft is increasingly felt as publicly-available satellite imagery renders air strips more vulnerable to enemy attack.

Citing DARPA Director Stefanie Tompkins, Defense One wrote that the program seeks to combine runway independence, speed, and mobility, which has not been attempted before.

The two concepts “have independently been explored by different communities and have different kinds of platforms, but not combined into a single space,” she said. 

Potential missions for the aircraft include “emergency medical evacuation or helping troops infiltrate very hard-to-reach areas,” Tompkins added.

Flight Tests in 42 Months

The 42-month program’s six-month phase 1A will focus on conceptual design, interface requirements, and definition, followed by a review. 

Phase 1B will see design maturation through “more sophisticated analyses, simulations, component testing, subsystem testing, manufacturing planning and flight test planning,” including preliminary design review, the Pentagon agency explained in a notice.

The demonstrator will go through detailed design, building, ground testing, and certification in Phase 2, followed by a flight test in the last phase.

The DARPA Tactical Technology Office will organize program proposals on March 23.

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