Aircraft and Atmospheric Systems

V-22s sold to Japan; electric aircraft being developed

The V/STOL Aircraft Systems Technical Committee is working to advance research on vertical or short take-off and landing aircraft.

A test pilot flies an F-35B Lightning II during an asymmetric loading test flight. Credit: Lockheed Martin

The F-35 aircraft program reached a major public milestone when it performed a routine at the Paris Air Show in June. Lockheed Martin test pilot Billie Flynn demonstrated the aircraft’s agility. While unit costs, Red Flag military exercise deployments and international participation on the program grabbed headlines, the flight test program continued uninterrupted with flight test hours reaching 100,000 to date. This year, the F-35B testing included live weapons trials, ski-jump testing and powered lift mode formation flights. In January, the U.S. Marine Corps deployed a squadron of F-35Bs to its overseas base in Iwakuni, Japan — the aircraft’s first deployment outside the continental U.S.

The Japanese Self-Defense Forces are poised to receive the first of 17 Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft, which was rolled out at the Bell Amarillo, Texas, facility in October. This is the first foreign military sale of the V-22.

Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, continued testing the proof of concept S-97 Raider compound helicopter, based on its X2 Technology. This aircraft is focused on demonstrating future vertical lift light capabilities for the U.S. Army. The Raider program has completed 14 flights with 20 hours in the air, and in 2017, it demonstrated unique maneuvers and handling qualities at speeds up to 150 knots at Sikorsky’s Development Flight Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. In 2018, Sikorsky plans to achieve speeds above 220 knots and to continue demonstrating the mission capabilities of this next-generation light tactical prototype helicopter, capable of twice the cruise speed and maneuverability of conventional armed scout helicopters.

Additionally, Sikorsky is teamed with Boeing to focus on Future Vertical Lift medium requirements for the SB>1 Defiant Technology Demonstrator aircraft for the Joint Multi Role Technology Demonstrator program. Like Raider, Defiant is a rigid coaxial design with a pusher propeller based on X2 Technology. In August, engines were started for the first time on the Defiant Propulsion System Testbed. First flight is expected in mid-2018. In the meantime, Bell Helicopter announced in September that the V-280 Valor tiltrotor demonstrator is complete. Ground testing began in late September at a purposely built elevated ramp at the company’s Amarillo facilities. First flight of the V-280 was expected by year’s end.

On other powered lift applications, Aurora Flight Sciences continued developing the XV-24A LightningStrike X-plane. The XV-24A is a DARPA-funded tilt-wing hybrid-electric unmanned demonstrator. The aircraft demonstrated its control architecture on a subscale unmanned prototype. This 159-kilogram, 20 percent-scale flight demonstrator completed its flight test program in April.

2017 was a breakout year for electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft, spurred by the April launch of Uber Elevate, which seeks to engender a VTOL urban transportation system of electric air taxis. Some 30 companies around the world are known to be developing electric and hybrid-electric VTOL aircraft, basically extending the technology and concepts of electric VTOL drones to manned aircraft.

V-22s sold to Japan; electric aircraft being developed