The United States Air Force is set to launch 35 new aircraft concepts that can revolutionize personal flight. The service received 218 entries for a new High-Speed Vertical Takeoff and Landing (HSVTOL) aircraft, and one or more finalists may be put into production. The aim is to create Jeep-like aircraft that aren’t limited to airfield runways and operate in remote locations.
HSVTOL’s primary purpose is to make use of new technology, notably electric planes. The planes are designed to carry one to twelve people and soar like a helicopter using rotating propellers, ducted fans, and other technology.
This entails rotating the engine nacelles 90 degrees from a downward to a forward thrust position while the plane is airborne. The V-22 Osprey tiltrotor was the first aircraft to use this technology, which has the advantage of requiring just one set of engines for vertical and horizontal flight.
The HSVTOL Concept Challenge was first announced in 2017 by AFWERX, an Air Force program aimed at startups. The program released a request for proposals in May, which was extended for a month. Finally, in August, the program featured some of the most viable options.
But which type of aircraft will succeed? Currently, the Air Force is seeking a modern jeep. Willys-Overland created a tiny, four-person cross-country vehicle in the months leading up to World War II. The US military bought 637,000 and employed them in stretcher vehicles, anti-tank vehicles, battlefield surveillance, and chauffeuring VIPs. The US Army had even deployed a Jeep with a nuclear weapon by the late 1950s, transforming the simple vehicle into one of history’s most formidable weapons.
That’s precisely what the Air Force wants, only it now feels that new technologies have matured to the point where it can achieve a 21st-century flying Jeep. The Air Force wants HSVTOL aircraft that can pick up downed fliers behind enemy lines, shuttle maintainers and troops from vast air bases to small, remote airfields, and deliver weapons, spare parts, and equipment as needed.
The Jetoptera J-2000 is one of 35 designs that have progressed in the competition. It’s a one- or two-person plane with a capacity of 450 to 800 pounds, a top speed of 200 mph, and a range of 200 miles. Meanwhile, the J-4000 is a larger aircraft that can transport four people.
Jetoptera’s aircraft has a unique fluidic propulsion technology. It claims that by taking a holistic approach to engine and aircraft design, it can improve propulsive efficiency while reducing fuel consumption and total weight.
The FusionFlight JetQuad is another aircraft design that lived up to expectations. The aircraft’s propulsion technology is similar to the AV-8B Harrier II used by the Marine Corps. The JetQuad is a technological prototype that aspires to become a medevac drone capable of transporting a single injured passenger to a field hospital. Another larger design is a vertical takeoff and landing plane that can carry two people.
One of the most prominent designs in the HVSTOL competition is the Advanced Tactics Barracuda. It is a beast with a helicopter-like cockpit and fuselage and a propeller-driven plane-like tail assembly. It features four propellers and a high-wing design. The propeller nacelles are mounted on swinging pylons that allow the craft to fly like a helicopter before switching to propeller-aircraft mode. With 14 seats and a maximum payload of 12,500 pounds, Barracuda is larger than a U.S. Army UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter. According to Advanced Tactics, the aircraft will navigate at 400 knots. According to the manufacturer, the aircraft should have a range of 2,400 nautical miles in vertical mode and 3,200 miles in aeroplane mode.
The twenty-first century’s flying Jeep is most likely a near-future development. The combination of tiltrotor technology, microturbines, and computer-assisted flight controls could lead to a compact utility vehicle for the Air Force and other services. In addition, the technology would most certainly find its way into the commercial, if not personal, flying.