Northrop Grumman Advances to Next Phase in DARPA’s Autonomous VTOL Aircraft Program

by Anna

Northrop Grumman has been selected by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to advance to the next design phase of its autonomous vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft under the AdvaNced airCraft Infrastructure-Less Launch And RecoverY (ANCILLARY) program.

The ANCILLARY Phase 1b air vehicle design and system technology maturation award involves a 10-month period dedicated to enhancing modeling fidelity, performing critical subsystems testing, and mitigating key technical risks. Northrop Grumman, known for its prowess in developing and integrating VTOL systems and long-endurance aircraft, will spearhead efforts to refine the ANCILLARY air vehicle design for DARPA.


In this crucial phase, Northrop Grumman will lead a collaborative team that includes Leigh Aerosystems and Near Earth Autonomy. The team’s objective is to achieve the project goals and transition an affordable near-term capability to the warfighter community, moving one step closer to constructing a flight demonstrator.


The ANCILLARY program aims to develop and demonstrate an X-plane that incorporates critical technologies necessary for a significant leap in VTOL UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) performance. This advanced UAS is designed to launch and recover from ship flight decks and small, austere land locations in adverse weather conditions without the need for additional infrastructure equipment. This capability is crucial for enabling expeditionary deployments and providing locally commanded, responsive intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting (ISR/T) with unique payload capabilities.


Unlike larger VTOL systems, the compact size of the UAS envisioned by the ANCILLARY program would allow multiple aircraft to be stored and operated from a single ship. This capability would create a tactical beyond-line-of-sight, multi-intelligence sensor network, significantly enhancing the operational flexibility and intelligence capabilities of military forces.


Northrop Grumman’s selection for this phase underscores the company’s leading role in advancing autonomous aviation technologies. By leveraging its extensive experience and collaborating with specialized partners, Northrop Grumman aims to deliver a transformative UAS solution that meets the strategic needs of the warfighter community.

The success of the ANCILLARY program holds the potential to revolutionize how military operations are conducted in challenging environments, providing a robust, adaptable, and efficient platform for critical missions.

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