DARPA’s Crazy 24-Fan Electric X-Plane Model Completed a Test Flight

by Monica Hunter-Hart
Photo via Aurora Flight Sciences

Ever wonder how the United States develops the most advanced military technology in the world? One of the main organizations responsible is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which creates cutting-edge equipment for the Department of Defense. One of its latest projects is an X-Plane by the name of “LightningStrike,” or XV-24A (less fun), upon which DARPA just completed some key testing.

The new plane will be innovative for many reasons. First of all, it will run on 24 fans powered by a hybrid turboshaft engine and electric generators, so it’ll be quieter and more fuel-efficient than most planes. It will also employ cool tech advances like 3D-printed plastics.

Here’s maybe the most groundbreaking innovation: the plane will be able to take off and land vertically on the ground, which totally eliminates the need for a runway. That, in addition to its ability to hover, will give LightningStrike the versatility of a helicopter — only with better hovering efficiency and less drag loss. It’ll also be much faster than helicopters. The craft is expected to travel at speeds of over 300 knots, or 350 mph.

It’s not that fast yet; it’ll be a while before the plane lives up to its name. DARPA’s latest round of testing was for a sub-scale version of LightningStrike, at only 322 lbs (the full-scale will be 12,000). But these tests were a huge, essential step. You can watch an awesome test flight for yourself in a video shared by Aurora Flight Sciences, the company to which DARPA outsourced this project.

DARPA program manager Ashish Bagai described the successful tests in a press release. “The aircraft exhibited exceptional flight characteristics, with no loss in altitude even as it transitioned from vertical to horizontal flight. It also demonstrated aerodynamic effectiveness of the distributed propulsive system.”

Two versions of LightningStrike have now been tested. Next step: the real thing. Stay tuned for updates on the development of the full-scale craft.