Feeds

DARPA looking at 'Z-Wing' stratocruiser

Solar wingship triad will dock together 17 miles up

Last week, news broke that the Pentagon had selected three design teams to contend for its "Vulture" project, in which enormous yet frail unmanned flying wings will cruise for years on end in the upper reaches of the atmosphere. Details of the plans are expected later this month, but some intriguing information has already leaked out.

NASA's 'Helios' solar wingship drone

The ill-fated Helios. 'Odysseus' will take off in three sections.

In particular, Flight International reported yesterday on a talk with an engineer from Aurora Flight Sciences. Aurora's Vulture design is codenamed "Odysseus", no doubt alluding to the extremely lengthy voyages the craft is intended to make.

Rather splendidly, the Odysseus solar wingship will not be a single unit like NASA's ill-fated, jumbo jet sized Aerovironment Helios. Rather, its three sections will take off independently and dock themselves together at high altitude, forming an immense 150 metre unit.

The especially clever thing is that the sections will not be rigidly mated, but rather hinged - forming what Aurora calls a "Z-Wing". This is great, because it allows the sections of Odysseus to tilt in flight, thus gathering the maximum amount of solar energy from the Sun even when it is low on the horizon.

Without this ability, the Vulturecraft of the future would struggle to reap much solar energy whenever they were operating far from the equator in winter. The wingships must not only power themselves, but also provide juice for their payload systems, and must have enough poke to hold still against very fast upper-atmosphere winds; and they must do all this around the clock, whereas they can generate solar power only in daylight. As a result, every watt-minute of power is important, and thus Aurora believes the Z-wing configuration is necessary for success.

"The highest limit is the arctic at winter solstice," Aurora boffin Bob Parks told Flight. "The closer you try to get to that, the harder the problem is."

Odysseus will also use X-wing style tail units, able to roll so their solar panels are aligned to the Sun. At night, running on stored power, the Z-wing will flatten out for better aerodynamic efficiency.

The other two Vulture contenders are being put together by US aerospace behemoths Lockheed and Boeing. They haven't released details yet, but Aurora plans to give a full brief later this month.

The winner will be selected to build a small-scale working Vulture model, and if performance is good enough the project could go full-size. The idea is that Vulture wingships would be able to stay up over a given location for years on end, delivering the same kind of capability which can currently be achieved only by costly geosynchronous satellites.

The project is being run, of course, by DARPA (the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency), the Pentagon boffinry bureau that just can't leave a military tech applecart alone.

Read all about it from Flight here. ®

More from The Register

next story
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
Israeli spies rebel over mass-snooping on innocent Palestinians
'Disciplinary treatment will be sharp and clear' vow spy-chiefs
Apple CEO Tim Cook: TV is TERRIBLE and stuck in the 1970s
The iKing thinks telly is far too fiddly and ugly – basically, iTunes
Huawei ditches new Windows Phone mobe plans, blames poor sales
Giganto mobe firm slams door shut on Microsoft. OH DEAR
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Found inside ISIS terror chap's laptop: CELINE DION tunes
REPORT: Stash of terrorist material found in Syria Dell box
Show us your Five-Eyes SECRETS says Privacy International
Refusal to disclose GCHQ canteen menus and prices triggers Euro Human Rights Court action
prev story

Whitepapers

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops
Balancing user privacy and privileged access, in accordance with compliance frameworks and legislation. Evaluating any potential remote control choice.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.