Aurora X-Plane
(Aurora Flight Sciences)

DARPA Funding ‘Game Changing’, High-Speed VTOL Aurora X-Plane

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has signed a new agreement with Aurora Flight Sciences to develop the high-speed vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) Aurora X-Plane.

Dubbed the SPRINT (Speed and Runway Independent Technologies) X-Plane Demonstration Project, the Boeing subsidiary will use the newly awarded phase one contract to reach a conceptual design review incorporating the latest technologies and established engineering concepts into this next-generation VTOL aircraft.

“This project aims to design, build, and fly an X-Plane to demonstrate technologies and integrated concepts necessary for a transformational combination of aircraft speed and runway independence,” explains an Aurora Flight Sciences press release announcing the new project.

The company aims to fly the first SPRINT concept vehicle in 42 months.

Aurora X-Plane Will Combine New Technologies with Established COncepts

Under the new contract, the Aurora X-Plane will design a high lift, low drag “fan in wing” (FIW) demonstrator aircraft that sports a blended wing body style with embedded engines and a “moderate sweep.” The aircraft’s vertical flight design will also include embedded engines linked to the aircraft’s power plant via mechanical drives, increasing power transfer and reliability while reducing power usage.

In its final form, the company says the aircraft would also deliver “game-changing air” mobility capability “by combining cruise at over 450 KTAS with vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) in a single platform, ” the release explains.

Notably, Boeing brings extensive expertise in the design of such aircraft, including the retired X-48 blended-wing concept aircraft.

Aurora X-Plane
Retired Boeing X-48 UAS. By Tony Landis for NASA – This image or video was catalogued by Armstrong Flight Research Center of the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) under Photo ID: ED06-0198-62., Public Domain,

Similarly, Aurora has successfully developed its own Excalibur UAS (Unmanned Aerial System), which uses jet power to drive three electric “louvered lift” fans for vertical takeoff and landing.

Aurora X-Plane
Aurora Flight Science’s Excalibur UAS. Image Credit Aurora Flight Sciences.

On the new Aurora X-Plane, that technology will be adapted so the aircraft’s fans retract into the wings during its forward flight mode.

X-Plane’s First Flight Could Take Place in 42 Months

Under the terms of the newly awarded contract, the SPRINT Aurora X-Plane will be developed by engineering teams working at several Boeing and Aurora facilities. This includes the advanced design teams in the company’s Virginia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania facilities.

“Aurora and Boeing are excited to work with DARPA to develop this revolutionary capability,” said Larry Wirsing, vice president of Aircraft Development Programs at Aurora Flight Sciences in the same release. “This X-plane will demonstrate that a high-speed, vertical lift, blended wing body aircraft will provide superior flexibility and operational performance to the military in the future.”

While no specific timeline was given for the various stages of development that will be needed to bring the Aurora X-Plane to life, the company did say they are hoping to have the first operating demonstrator ready to take its first flight in around 42 months.

 Christopher Plain is a Science Fiction and Fantasy novelist and Head Science Writer at The Debrief. Follow and connect with him on X, learn about his books at, or email him directly at