DARPA Announces New VTOL Drone Program

The US Defense Advanced Research projects Agency (DARPA) has announced its new program focused on developing next-generation vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capabilities. Under the AdvaNced airCraft Infrastructure-Less Launch And RecoverY X-Plane (ANCILLARY) program, DARPA plans to develop a drone capable of VTOL launches and landings without special infrastructure. Regardless of weather, the ANCILLARY drone is expected to be capable of landing and taking off from ship decks and in rough terrain. The drone would also have “low-weight, high-payload, and long-endurance capabilities”.

DARPA states that if successful, the program would demonstrate the new technologies required for “a leap ahead in vertical takeoff and landing” which include “small propulsion systems, high capacity low weight batteries, fuel cells, materials, electronics, and low-cost additive manufacturing”. Currently, most recent advances and investments in VTOL come from what DARPA describes as “a large non-traditional commercial industry base” which has been developing more efficient and capable VTOL systems. DARPA believes that the new technologies it identified should be sufficient for achieving the next generation VTOL capabilities predicted by ANCILLARY.

According to DARPA’s ANCILLARY Program Manager Steve Komadina:

“ANCILLARY plans to use a multi-disciplinary approach that will bring together developments in advanced control theory, aerodynamic modelling, and advanced propulsion to solve a combination of challenging design objectives. […] The upcoming Proposers Day and Expo on September 20, 2022, will not only bring together traditional aircraft manufactures, but also non-traditional military contractors that have been investigating commercial VTOL solutions.”

Komadina also briefly commented on the military benefits the program would bring:

“The ability for the warfighter to deploy and retrieve such [VTOL drone] systems in challenging conditions without reliance on infrastructure would minimize personnel, costs, and vulnerability during sensitive operations.”

DARPA is no stranger to projects dealing with revolutionary aerospace technology. This February, DARPA demonstrated modified Blackhawks capable of taking over some pilots’ functions or flying as unmanned vehicles and in March, DARPA announced a Ekranoplan-inspired project focused on developing a new strategic airlift capability.

The official DARPA ANCILLARY announcement is available here.