DARPA has no shortage of weird ideas, being the military’s department of making Clint Eastwood movies a reality and building helicarriers for drones that are also drones. But this might be the strangest thing we’ve seen yet: a drone that’s half-helicopter, and half-plane.
This is even trickier than it sounds — The design of hovering craft like helicopters and flying craft-like planes are so different they can actively work against each other when you try to combine them. How does the VTOL X-Plane pull it off? Well, in theory, at least, by filling its wings with propellers. The X-Plane can rotate its wings and stabilizers downward and use that to lift off from the ground like a helicopter. Once it’s got enough height, the built-in jet can kick in and the wings rotate back to a horizontal position. Then it flies, doing whatever DARPA wants, probably something involving missiles, until it needs to land, and then the process repeats. It can also hover above a location to perform other tasks.
This is, obviously, little more than a concept at this point, although the theory apparently makes enough sense that DARPA has given the go-ahead to the military contractors behind this to see if they can make it work. If it does, manned aircraft using this technology will likely be next, mostly because they want to cruise around blaring “America F*ck Yeah!” through warzones. A prototype is supposed to be in the air by 2018.