On April 18th, Aurora Flight Sciences successfully tested a 3D printed scale model of an experimental VTOL aircraft called “LightningStrike”.
The 20% scale model is constructed of carbon fiber and 3D printed thermoplastics, resulting in a weight of only 325 lbs. This is significant, as the weight savings for the machine’s complex structure would not have been possible without the use of 3D printing technology.
The model was constructed to test the possibilities of a full-scale aircraft being developed for DARPA’s VTOL X-Plane project, which seeks a machine that flies like an airplane but takes off and lands like a helicopter. The recent test proved that the model can hover and take off and land vertically.
“The successful subscale aircraft flight was an important and exciting step for Aurora and our customer,” said Tom Clancy, Chief Technology Officer for Aurora. “Our design’s distributed electric propulsion system involves breaking new ground with a flight control system requiring a complex set of control effectors. This first flight is an important initial confirmation that both the flight controls and aerodynamic design are aligning with our design predictions.”
From here, the company will move forward with the full-scale version along with partners Honeywell International and Rolls-Royce. The resulting machine is expected to surpass the speed and fuel efficiency of any existing VTOL aircraft, reaching speeds of over 450 mph and increasing hovering efficiency by 60-75%. The LightningStrike’s first flight is expected to occur in 2018.