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Hybrid-electric LightningStrike demonstrator makes first flight
LightningStrike takes to the air. © Aurora Flight Sciences

Hybrid-electric LightningStrike demonstrator makes first flight

Aurora Flight Sciences has announced the successful first flight of a subscale vehicle demonstrator (SVD) of its LightningStrike Vertical Take-off and Landing Experimental Plane (VTOL X-plane) for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Aurora explains that the flight of the subscale aircraft met an important DARPA risk reduction requirement, focusing on validation of the aerodynamic design and flight control system.

The subscale aircraft weighs 147kg and is a 20% scale flight model of the full scale demonstrator Aurora will build for DARPA in the next 24 months. The wing and canard of the subscale vehicle utilize a hybrid structure of carbon fibre and 3D printed FDM plastics to reduce weight.

The unmanned aircraft take-off, hover and landing was controlled by Aurora personnel located in a nearby ground control station with oversight and coordination by U.S. government officials including DARPA personnel.

Aurora was awarded the Phase II contract for the VTOL X-Plane on 3rd March. The programme seeks to develop a vertical take-off and landing demonstrator aircraft that will achieve a top sustained flight speed of 300–400kt, with a 60-75% increase in hover efficiency over existing VTOL aircraft.

Aurora’s design is for the first aircraft in aviation history to demonstrate distributed hybrid-electric propulsion using an innovative synchronous electric-drive system. Aurora will now focus on further validation of the flight control system and the configuration of the full scale VTOL X-Plane demonstrator.

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