JUST IN: DARPA Developing X-Plane for Special Operators

By Stew Magnuson

DARPA concept

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has kicked off a program to develop a runway-independent X-plane for Special Operations Command.

The Speed and Runway Independent Technologies, or SPRINT, X-plane demonstration project came to light in a recent LinkedIn post.

The agency’s Tactical Technology Office is soliciting proposals to design, build, certify and fly an X-plane to demonstrate speed and runway independence for a next generation of air mobility platforms, an agency statement said.

The artist’s concept that accompanied the post portrayed an aircraft that looked much like the next-generation, autonomous hybrid-electric commuter aircraft that several companies are currently developing.

The broad agency announcement released March 9 stressed runway independence over other attributes. It did not mention whether the aircraft should be crewed, uncrewed, or optionally piloted.

The announcement also did not mention whether it should use conventional or hybrid engines, only that it “must demonstrate the ability to generate and distribute power in all modes of flight and during transition between these modes of flight.”

The announcement did, however, specify that the aircraft be scalable, have the ability to cruise at speeds from 400 to 450 knots, and at relevant altitudes between 15,000 and 30,000 feet. It should carry a payload of 5,000 pounds, with a substantial 30-foot-long, eight-foot-wide cargo bay capable of carrying a small vehicle or two and a half pallets, it said.

The initial requirement for endurance is one and a half hours and 200 nautical miles.

The announcement said runway independence was “envisioned as the ability to operate and hover near unprepared surfaces, such as sections of damaged runways, remote highways/roadways, unprepared fields with dry grass, parking lots, etc.”

It will be a three-phase project, with the first phase seeking proposals. The entities selected will share $15 million to refine their concepts. The second part includes a downselect with $75 million of total funding for risk reduction work and air certification approvals, then a further downselect to build and fly the aircraft. That amount was undisclosed.

“The goal of SPRINT is to reach first flight of the demonstrator no more than 42 months from contract award,” the announcement said.

Topics: Special Operations, Air Power

Comments (5)

Re: DARPA Developing X-Plane for Special Operators

Every R&D dollar that's spent takes away from actual procurement. That's why all this "great stuff" never gets to the warfighter. I 100% agree John. Instead we are divesting actual capability today for a notional capability sometime in the future. Divest to Invest. Everybody's doing it.

Domenic J. Veneziano at 9:01 PM
Re: DARPA Developing X-Plane for Special Operators

Why couldn't they make it go 450-550 knots for a real leap in capability?

Edward Randall at 8:39 AM
Re: DARPA Developing X-Plane for Special Operators

The elephant in the room: The valley of death. Perhaps it would be worthwhile for defense related congressional committees to take the senior enlisted N.C.O.s and the company engineers along on a tour of said valley and pick useful items for final development and deployment. If the top enlisted are thinking clearly, they will bring some E-5s along as advisors because they will be the ones using / training on these items. [It seems that flag officers and their civilian counterparts have been away from the user environment to properly evaluate "items in the valley of death"; or too interested in supporting one or another vendor (or avoiding supporting one or another vendor). Advice: Stay away from the sales force in favor of the engineers who built it in the first place.]

Everett Puterbaugh at 10:19 AM
Re: DARPA Developing X-Plane for Special Operators

These comments show blinkered thinking. DARPA was established to fund possible "Buck Rogers" stuff. Most famously the Internet.
Blinkered thinking has the US playing catch-up on hypersonic weapons.
The money discussed in this article is less than the cost of one F-35. I doubt ot spending it would enhance the US warfighting capability.
In war you have to plan for the future or you won't have any.

Jacob Glanzer at 4:57 PM
Re: DARPA Developing X-Plane for Special Operators

This is all very nice, but the DOD has many higher priorities that are unfunded. We need to be preparing for a hot war with a major power in the next few years, not building Buck Rogers stuff that can't be in service for 20 years.

John Stuart at 10:37 AM
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