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The DARPA Heliplane (HELI[copter]-[air]PLANE) program (formerly Advanced Aeronautics Demonstration) will design, develop and flight test an air vehicle that combines the vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) and low disk loading characteristics of a helicopter with the speed and efficiency characteristics of a fixed wing aircraft. The Heliplane demonstrator aircraft will be tailored to a Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) mission with a 400 mph cruise speed, a 1,000 lb payload, and an unrefueled range of 1,000 miles.

The Heliplane program will conduct a combination of analysis and experiments to develop and demonstrate key enabling technologies. Once key enabling technologies have been demonstrated, a preliminary and detailed design of the Heliplane system will be completed, a full scale test of the rotor system will be conducted, and a Heliplane demonstrator will be fabricated and flight tested. Potential customers include the Army, Special Operations Command (SOCOM), Marines, and AFSOC.

Used on the 1950s Fairy Rotodyne, one key concept that DARPA is considering is the use of tip jets to power large-diameter rotors to achieve lift. The technologies have come of age to make an older idea viable. New approaches will meet challenges such as noise levels, rotor speed and retreating blade stall, lightweight primary structure, efficient engines, low drag, active vibration control, integration, and so on. This initiative is complementary to other compound helicopter ideas and has value ranging from the combat search and rescue to the heavy-lift rotorcraft missions of the future.

DARPA issued a solicitation in Federal Business Opportunities on February 16, 2005, and multiple proposals were received. The Tactical Technology Office (TTO) of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is soliciting proposals for advanced research and development of system and subsystem level technologies that when integrated into the tactical environment provide revolutionary improvements to the efficiency and effectiveness of the military. TTO typically provides $200K to $1000K for the initial phase. Successful initial phases will have a greater likelihood of receiving funding for subsequent optional phases.

On 01 November 2005 Groen Brothers Aviation [a Small Business], of Salt Lake City, Utah, was awarded a $3,000,000 increment of a $6,413,314 other transaction for prototypes agreement to design a heliplane, a vertical takeoff and landing air vehicle with forward flight performance much better than conventional helicopters. Work will be performed in Salt Lake City, Utah (70 percent); Atlanta, Ga. (20 percent); Walled Lake, Mich. (5 percent); and Englewood, Colo. (5 percent); and will be completed in January 2007. Funds will expire at the end of this fiscal year. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is the contracting activity (HR0011-06-9-0002). GBA's contract, a fifteen month $6.4 million award to develop the preliminary design and perform key technology demonstrations, is Phase One of the potential multi-year $40 million four phase program.

In a February 2007 article headlined "Heliplane Design Gathers Speed" from the weekly aerospace news magazine Flight International, GBA/DARPA Heliplane Project Manager Don Woodbury has reported on the progress thus far. "We did not realize how much of a challenge 400mph was, but we have a design that converges, and we have got some margin," said Woodbury. GBA and DARPA completed a system requirements review on the rotor and are now involved in meeting the Milestone 5 objectives in Phase One of the project.

The Heliplane is designed to exploit GBA's gyrodyne technology, offering the VTOL capability of a helicopter, the fast forward flight of an airplane, and the safety, simplicity and reliability of a GBA gyroplane. Groen Brothers Aviation, Inc. (GBA) is engaged in the business of designing and developing new high performance gyroplanes and gyrodynes using advanced technology and modern aerospace design methods. The GBA team includes Georgia Tech, Adam Aircraft, Williams International and a highly renowned team of aerospace consultants. On the Government Team under DARPA, the GBA team is receiving important support from NASA Ames and the Army's AFDD team at NASA Ames Research Center in addition to leading Rotorcraft Technologists who for decades led much of this nation's advanced rotor-wing aircraft development efforts.

Program Plans

  • Perform Heliplane system trade studies and develop conceptual design.
  • Develop and conduct risk-reduction demonstrations of key Heliplane technologies and components.
  • Demonstrate capability for stable operation of the full-scale Heliplane rotor system at high speed in a wind tunnel.
  • Complete preliminary and detailed design of Heliplane demonstrator.
  • Fabricate Heliplane demonstrator aircraft.
  • Conduct flight tests to validate Heliplane performance.

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