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Flying Wing DARPA Drone to Increase Soldier Mobility

The Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has revealed plans to develop a high-speed vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft over the next few years that would provide terrain-independent non-human cargo transportation for the military.

Formerly known as "Transformer," the Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System (ARES) program is being developed with software from Lockheed Martin's famed Skunk Works, and hardware from Piasecki Aircraft of Essington, Pennsylvania, under a $77 million DARPA contract.

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The ARES VTOL flight module is a 41-foot-span self-contained unmanned flying-wing aircraft with a tiltrotor configuration. Two tilting ducted fans about eight feet in diameter provide power, similar to a helicopter, and the craft can rapidly convert to high-speed horizontal flight.

John Piasecki, head of Piasecki Aircraft, stated that the idea is to create an aircraft which will increase the mobility and range of small military units.

"Both the Marine Corps and the Army are looking to expand their expeditionary capabilities and be able to support what they call distributed operations over much broader areas. Doing that, they need to have the flexibility to aggregate and disaggregate at will in order to apply combat power," Piasecki asserted, according to Breaking Defense.

The fuselage can be configured to carry various payloads, including, sensors, life support gear, various supply items, or a remote-control ground-attack weapon delivered to troops.

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The system is said to be highly adaptable. "You could take a big Chinook or a —53 and very efficiently drop 10,000 lbs. of stuff on a small unit, but then they're no longer mobile," Piasecki said. "They're going to stand around and guard their food. So it's a transition from a traditional logistics push mentality to an on-demand logistics pull mentality."

DARPA program manager Shish Bagai claimed the aircraft would be able to cruise at 195 mph, with a ceiling of 20,000 feet, and have a mission radius of about 175 miles. The first flight of the drone was slated for last June, but was delayed due to "some developmental items [that] have required some additional testing," Bagai said. ARES is now scheduled for flight tests in the fall of 2017 at the earliest.

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