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A few weeks ago, I wrote an article, highlighting DARPA’s experimental, unmanned vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) X-Plane—or what I called, the “Osprey of Tomorrow.” At the time, it was still just a concept. Now, Aurora, the company behind the design, has announced the successful test flight of the aircraft at a U.S. military facility.

Pretty speedy progress.

The 325-pound plane, nicknamed LightningStrike, is a 20 percent scale flight model of the plane Aurora plans to build for DARPA within the next two years. In terms of design, it integrates 3D-printed FDM plastics and a carbon fiber-hybrid structure—resulting in a complex aerodynamic design with minimal weight.

"The successful subscale aircraft flight was an important and exciting step for Aurora and our customer," Tom Clancy, Aurora's chief technology officer, said in the company’s press statement. "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."

The goal of the program is to design a VTOL aircraft (in a nutshell: part-chopper, part-plane) that can achieve flight speeds between 345 and 460 mph, with a 60 to 75 percent increase in hover efficiency over existing VTOL models. A first in aviation history, Aurora’s design boasts a hybrid-electric system, meaning the aircraft runs on electricity generated by the aircraft’s turbine engine.

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