Darpa’s Heliplane

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) plans to demonstrate a 400mph gyrodyne, called Heliplane. Heliplane is an air vehicle that combines vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) and the low disk loading characteristics of a helicopter with the speed and efficiency characteristics of a fixed wing aircraft.




According to DARPA’s plans, the Heliplane will be suitable for combat search and rescue (CSAR) missions, boasting a 400 mph cruise speed, a 1,000 lb payload, and a range of 1,000 miles (without refueling). DARPA intends on awarding a contract for the next phases to the Georgia Institute of Technology (GIT), which was a subcontractor on Phase 1 of the Heliplane Program and who provided the latest contractor, Groen Brothers Aviation, with much of its “analytical horsepower”. 

DARPA’s Heliplane Program has set itself the goals of designing, developing, and flight testing the aircraft. A gyrodyne has a rotor that is driven for take-off, hover, and landing, but auto-rotates in forward flight. In the Heliplane, the rotor is powered by tip-jets. Air is ducted from the engines, mixed with fuel, and burned at the tips of the rotor blades. The same engines provide thrust for forward flight, and, as it was with a previous model, the Rotodyne, tip-jet noise has proved a challenge. 

Although Groen Brothers Aviation (GBA) was given a six-month extension to its Phase 1 contract to study alternative tip-jet designs, Georgia Tech played a key role in those Phase 1A studies. According to DARPA, under the current phase, 1B, GIT will be required to mature the design of the Heliplane, in order to ensure that it closes on a 400mph VTOL aircraft. The Georgia Tech team will work to meet all program objectives, including tip-jet noise requirements. The goal is to create a rotorcraft that can take-off and land vertically and cruise twice as fast as any conventional helicopter. 

TFOT has covered Boeing’s new unmanned helicopter (developed for DARPA), which will be able to perform long-range high endurance surveillance and reconnaissance operations, and the Aeroscraft, which is a combination of an airship and an advanced aircraft, exceptionally designed to carry huge amounts of cargo. Other related TFOT stories include the WaterScout, an autonomous submarine deployable helicopter, and DARPA’s Urban Challenge 2007.

More information on the Heliplane can be found on DARPA’s website.