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Report: The Pentagon’s mysterious new Aircraft doesn’t need a runway

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The U.S. government wants to help special operations forces by building a new type of high-speed aircraft that doesn’t need a runway.

The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced on Wednesday that it’s working with the Special Operations Command on the Speed and Runway Independent Technologies, or SPRINT, program. The project could meet a growing demand for aircraft that can land on unprepared surfaces.

DARPA director Stefanie Tompkins said the new aircraft could be used for combat medical evacuations or aid soldiers trying to get into remote locations. The details of the program are hazy, as you’d expect from a secrecy-shrouded agency like DARPA. Still, a rendering of the proposed mysterious aircraft lacks helicopter rotors, and the emphasis is on speed.

Joining the VTOL Crowd

If the DARPA project succeeds, the new craft could join the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey as a solution for troops trying to get into rugged terrain quickly. The Osprey, a tiltrotor military aircraft with both vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) and short takeoff and landing (STOL) capabilities, has become the vehicle of choice for many U.S. special operators and regular forces.

But the Osprey has had a troubled service record. First flown in 1989, the V-22 has had 13 hull loss accidents, resulting in 51 fatalities. Recently, the Osprey fleet was grounded due to issues with the aircraft’s clutch, which has been found to occasionally disengage during landing, leading to the potential for accidents.

Despite its problems, the V-22 has filled a critical niche. Using its prop rotor blades, the Osprey can take off and land in tight spaces or without a runway like a helicopter. Once off the ground, the rotors can rotate forward for horizontal flight, converting the V-22 to a more fuel-efficient, higher-speed turboprop aircraft.

No Runway Necessary

Drones could be part of the solution to finding landing spots without runways. BAE Systems recently showed off its new unmanned VTOL. The Strix can fit in a standard shipping container and carry various weapons, including the AGM-114 Hellfire.

Future wars might demand more aircraft that can land in places that don’t have runways. A RAND Corporation report predicted that if China attacked Taiwan, the conflict could begin with the destruction of airfields.

Taiwan might already be battle-testing its own VTOL drones. The country’s Revolver 860 VTOL drones were reportedly sold to Poland and transferred to Ukraine. A recent social media post showed the Revolver dropping mortar shells on Russian troops.

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