The US Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) has awarded Northrop Grumman a contract to design an autonomous Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) capable of operating from a moving vessel at sea.

Northrop Grumman was one of nine contractors – including AeroVironment, AVX Aircraft, Griffon Aerospace, Karem Aircraft, Leidos, Method Aeronautics, Piasecki Aircraft, and Sikorsky – selected to develop designs, with navy and marine missions in mind, under DARPA’s AdvaNced airCraft Infrastructure-Less Launch And RecoverY (ANCILLARY) programme.

This programme requires a maritime VTOL UAS that can be deployed and retrieved without launchers and landing/recovery equipment.

“The major challenge is developing an integrated flight vehicle that meets the hard objective of combining VTOL, long endurance, and large payload while also meeting requirements for shipboard storage and operations.

“A key element is the propulsion system, which needs to have enough power to lift the X-plane vertically while also being extremely efficient in forward flight when power needs are lower,” the programme manager for ANCILLARY, Steve Komadina, stated.

Northrop’s proposal for DARPA ANCILLARY

Northrop Grumman’s ANCILLARY demonstrator will be capable of carrying a 60-pound sensor payload with endurance of 20 hours’ time on station and missione radius range of 100 nautical miles, without any supplementary infrastructure equipment. The system will also have capability to land on a ship in adverse weather conditions.

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The aircraft will be capable of performing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and targeting missions, and supporting expeditionary missions for special operations forces and logstical missions with significant affordability impacts for ship-to-shore transition of parts and supplies.

Vice President for Research and Advanced Design at Northrop Grumman, Time Frei, said: “In collaboration with DARPA, Northrop Grumman will work to significantly enhance how future autonomous vertical lift aircraft will oeprate at sea and ashore.

“The ANCILLARY programme enables us to combine our digital engineering expertise with extensive knowledge and insights from past successes in developing and operating unmanned vertical lift aircraft for the US Navy.”