Aurora and General Atomics advance in DARPA seaplane project | News

Aurora and General Atomics advance in DARPA seaplane project | News

The US military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has selected two companies to develop demonstrator aircraft for the agency’s heavy-lift seaplane project.

DARPA announced on Feb. 1 that it has selected unmanned aerial systems (UAS) maker General Atomics and Boeing subsidiary Aurora Flight Sciences to produce designs under the first phase of the Liberty Lifter program.

“We are excited to launch this program and look forward to working closely with both Performer teams as they mature their point-of-departure design concepts in Phase 1,” said Christopher Kent, DARPA Liberty Lifter program manager. “The two teams have taken significantly different design approaches that will allow us to explore a relatively large design space in Phase 1.”

DARPA launched Liberty Lifter in 2022 with the goal of producing an aircraft that could carry large, heavy loads and take off and land on water without any ground or ship-based infrastructure.

San Diego-based General Atomics, which makes popular UAS platforms like the MQ-9 Reaper and MQ-1C Gray Eagle, was selected for the program in November. The company was awarded a $7.96 million development contract.

“Our experience with seaplanes such as the MQ-9B SkyGuardian and SeaGuardian will help enhance the capabilities of the Liberty Lifter concept and expand our cargo aircraft portfolio,” General Atomics president David Alexander said on Feb. 1.

Aurora, an aerospace technology developer bought by Boeing in 2017, now joins General Atomics at Liberty Lifter. The company confirmed on February 1 that it had been selected by DARPA for Phase 1 and had received six months of funding to achieve a “concept design review of a wing-in-ground-effect seaplane.”

“Aurora’s point-of-departure concept is a high-wing, single-hull floatplane designed for affordable volume production and extended maritime operations, including in deep-sea states and in high-traffic areas,” the company says.

The original Liberty Lifter contract includes an executable option to continue work through a preliminary design review, Aurora notes.

DARPA says it has set several target specifications for the Liberty Lifter demonstration designs, with the aircraft being similar in size and capacity to Boeing’s C-17 Globemaster cargo transport jet.

“The objectives are sea state 4 takeoff and landing, sustained water operation up to sea state 5, and extended flight near the water in ground effect, with the ability to fly out of ground effect at altitudes of up to 10,000 feet above sea level.” fly out plane,” notes the agency.

Sea state 5 sea conditions include wave heights of 2.5 to 4 m (8 to 13 ft) according to the World Meteorological Organization sea state code.

DARPA notes that the General Atomics team selected a dual-skin center wing design to “optimize stability on the water.” The proposal uses distributed propulsion using twelve turboshaft engines.

Aurora’s initial approach “more closely resembles a traditional flying boat, with a single fuselage, high wing and eight turboprops for primary propulsion,” the agency says.

Aurora Flight Services Liberty Lifter

The Liberty Lifter concept was born out of a perceived vulnerability of traditional heavy lift platforms, both airborne and at sea.

“Although current maritime transport is very efficient in transporting large amounts of payload, it is vulnerable to threats, requires functioning ports, and results in long transit times,” DARPA noted in announcing the initiative. “Traditional airlift is much faster but has limited ability to support naval operations.”

The agency hopes Liberty Lifter will demonstrate “a leap in operational logistics capabilities,” it said.

During Phase 1, DARPA plans to work with Aurora and General Atomics to refine the Liberty lifter designs “with particular attention to operational requirements and concepts of operation,” it said. The Phase 1 procurement has an 18-month work period, including six months for conceptual design work, nine months for design maturation, and three months for manufacturing planning and test and demonstration planning review.

Phase 2, which includes further detailed design, manufacture and demonstration of a full-size Liberty Lifter X-Plane, will begin in mid-2024.

DARPA says it plans to work with one or more uniformed U.S. military services to develop the Liberty Lifter concept into a mission-ready vehicle.

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