DARPA Picks Bell for Next-Gen Runway-Free Aircraft Project

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has selected Bell Textron Inc. for Phase 1A of its high-speed runway-independent aircraft demonstrator program.

The SPeed and Runway INdependent Technologies (SPRINT) project intends to design, develop, and build a vertical-lift aircraft capable of flying at around 400 knots (741 kilometers/460 miles per hour).

High Speed, Runway-Independence 

The effort to combine the two abilities stems from the growing vulnerability of airstrips to enemy bombardment due to publicly available satellite imagery.

The aircraft’s potential missions include emergency medical evacuation and aiding troops to infiltrate inaccessible areas.

Flight Tests in 42 Months

The 42-month program’s six-month phase 1A includes conceptual design, culminating in a formal conceptual design 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, DARPA explained in a notice.

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

Demonstrator Being Tested

The Texas-based aerospace firm intends to leverage its investment in HSVTOL (High-Speed Vertical Takeoff and Landing) technology for the project.

It is currently conducting risk reduction trials on a testing platform to demonstrate its folding rotor, integrated propulsion, and flight control technologies.

“Bell is honored to be selected for SPRINT and thrilled to support another X-plane, which will bring unprecedented speed to vertical lift aircraft,” executive vice president of engineering at Bell Jason Hurst said.

“This contract award is a testament to Bell’s ability to build on past successful high-speed aircraft programs while investing in new research to validate HSVTOL technology.”

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