The DARPA Aerial Reconfigurable Embedded System (ARES) is being built by prime contractor Lockheed Martin’s famed Skunk Works with Piasecki Aircraft under a $77 million DARPA contract. Lockheed is providing the software, Piasecki the hardware.
The hardware is a 41-foot span, unmanned flying wing in a tiltrotor configuration. Two ducted proprotors about eight feet in diameter, embedded near a stubby fuselage, will swivel up to let ARES take off and land like a helicopter and tilt forward to let it fly like an airplane.
The fuselage will be able to carry various plug-and-play payload modules – cargo, sensors, life support gear, even remote-control ground attack weapons are among the ideas — and deliver them to troops on austere battlefields or let those troops employ them.
To lift its “useful load” — payload module plus fuel — of up to 3,000 lbs., the 7,000-lb. maximum takeoff weight ARES demonstrator will be powered by two non-tilting Honeywell Aerospace HTS900 helicopter engines in the fuselage, each generating 989 horsepower. Ashish Bagai, DARPA program manager, expects the aircraft to cruise as fast as 170 knots (195 mph), with a ceiling of 20,000 feet, and have a mission radius of about 175 miles out and back. But that’s just the demonstrator. The contractors are working toward a variant able to cruise at 250 knots with a mission radius similar to the V-22 Osprey.
ARES is now scheduled to fly next fall at earliest, a few weeks after the September 2017 flight of Bell Helicopter’s new V-280 Valor tiltrotor and Sikorsky-Boeing’s SB1 Defiant compound helicopter, both being built for the Army-led Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator program
“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 aims for a full-featured Field Vehicle (FV) to cost around $1 million, compared to $400,000 for a Humvee and $4 million for a light helicopter
Lockheed claims their craft can be configured for several missions including reconnaissance, medical evacuation, and strike. It is to carry a detachable payload module such as a cargo pod, casualty evacuation module, light vehicle, or even a small boat. The front section of the flight vehicle has management system computers that are controlled by a ground control station to plot its flight.
SOURCES- Breaking Defense, Wikipedia, DARPA