Military Embedded Systems

VTOL UAS program from DARPA chooses nine for initial concept


June 23, 2023

Lisa Daigle

Assistant Managing Editor

Military Embedded Systems

Artist's concept: DARPA

ARLINGTON, Va. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) chose nine companies to produce initial operational system and demonstration system conceptual designs for a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) uncrewed aerial system (UAS) -- nicknamed the AdvaNced airCraft Infrastructure-Less Launch And RecoverY program or "ANCILLARY -- that will be able to deploy and retreat without the large mechanical launchers and landing/recovery equipment currently used today. 

During the initial six-month Phase 1a, AeroVironment, AVX Aircraft, Griffon Aerospace, Karem Aircraft, Leidos, Method Aeronautics, Northrop Grumman, Piasecki Aircraft, and Sikorsky will develop VTOL UAS designs to fit the types of missions that U.S. Navy and Marine personnel go on. Teams will subsequently submit competitive proposals for more detailed X-plane design work.  

Steve Komadina, the DARPA program manager for the ANCILLARY project, says that the program objectives are to develop a small UAS that takes off and lands vertically, like a helicopter, and flies its mission like very efficient winged aircraft, while carrying a significant amount of payload for a variety of missions. "We are looking for a VTOL UAS that can operate from ship flight decks and small out-of-the-way land locations in most weather conditions without using typical launch and recovery equipment that is needed for current long-endurance, high-payload-weight aircraft.” 

One key element, says Komadina, is the propulsion system, which must have enough power to lift the X-plane vertically yet remain extremely efficient during forward flight when power needs are lower.

X-plane flight tests under the auspices of the ANCILLARY project are expected to occur in early 2026.

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